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Why do my the muscles on top of my shoulder feel painful and tight ?

Many of us experience tightness and discomfort around the upper part of our shoulder/ base of neck area (trapezius). When tested these muscles have rarely actually become shorter, so it is unlikely that stretching will provide more than temporary relief. Many of us can find tender points or bands often referred to as “trigger points” in these muscles and seek hands on massage or devices such as rollers or massage balls to try and “release” these tender areas. However research evidence shows us that massaging cannot change the structure of muscle tissue and usually produces a fairly short lived reduction in symptoms, rather than reducing the symptoms longer term.

Another theory as to why discomfort develops in these muscles, is that when they are required to contract for long periods e.g when typing or looking down at our phones, this causes a reduction in blood flow to the tissues resulting in pain and inflammation developing. Maintaining reasonable posture to take the strain of muscles and regular movement should help to restore blood flow and improve symptoms.

Research is also starting to suggest that another reason for trapezius muscle soreness, is that sometimes they are actually weaker than they need to be and become easily overloaded. Gradual strengthening of these muscles is proving effective in research and can produce much longer term improvements.

Examples of trapezius strengthening exercises include:

  • Place your hands overhead on a wall creating a Y shape with your arms. Shrug you shoulders up, trying to slide your hands as high as you can up the wall. When this gets easy, weights can be added to the hands.

  • Stand on a long piece of band with arms slightly out from the side of your body and repeat the shrugging movement against the resistance of the band. Alternatively use weights in the hands again. Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps initially on alternate days, then daily.

Do not be put off by an initial increases in muscle soreness, as this is to be expected when we exercise muscles in a way that they are not used to, and normally lasts for a few days then reduces and lessens with successive bouts of exercise as your body adjusts.

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