A Common Cause
Your upper trap pain can be a symptom of multiple causes. It is always better to get it assessed to find what is making it feel so “tight” or painful.
One common and overlooked cause is a previous shoulder injury.
Upper trap pain is a very common occurrence after a shoulder injury.
Even after you have gone through a program of shoulder strengthening exercises and there is minimal shoulder pain. Trap pain is likely to occur.
Why is this so common?
Many times after you have had a shoulder injury there is no change in the way you are moving your shoulder.
After you have followed the prescribed rehab exercises. Muscles that were injured are now stronger on isolated movements (like external rotations with a band). Unfortunately, very little carryover is seen when your shoulder is challenged with weighted overhead movements.
This means that even if the rehabilitation was succesful in getting rid of the pain. The strength of the shoulder is still compromised and therefore compensation from the trap occurs
Compensation from the upper trap happens as a way to “get the job done.” Whether that be pulling an object or placing a weight overhead.
Here is a table that shows how overactivated the upper trap can be on people with shoulder impingement.
Observation of Shoulder Blade movement
One way to assess if you have truly re-learned to move and stabilize the shoulder is to provoke these movements under load.
Normal shoulder blade glide can be seen when you raise your arms overhead. However, if challenged to stabilize a load an excessive pull from the upper trap is commonly seen.
This might lead you feeling a constant tightness and pain over the area. The upper trap is constantly being overloaded.
It is common to think that your traps need to be stretched and released so they are not so overactive.
However the true solution lies with the cause
There are two options:
- You need to stop doing movements that overload it and retrain a more stable position.
- You need a stronger trap that can actually support the weight
Two are Better than One
We use a combined approach. Re-learning how to properly move your shoulder blade and also strengthen the muscles that will be used to support heavier loads: the upper trap.
Although you might feel like stretching is the thing to do. It can only provide you a momentary relief and keep you from addressing the cause of the tightness.
Always keep in mind that there are other factors that can cause this same symptom and every case is different.
Re-gaining rotator cuff strength might be the actual solution to solving that neck pain.