Tuesday 2 May 2017

Upper Trap Dominance

Spring and summer are upon us and baseball season is here! Not only that, it's also home renovation and yard work season, all of which mean that your shoulders better be in good shape for all the work that they're in for.

If you're already hurting, then it's a good thing you're here to read on.

One of the most common things I see on clients who come in with shoulder injuries (especially the chronic, overuse ones) is the dominance of the upper trapezius muscle. Like many large, easy-to-engage muscles of the body, the upper traps like to act as the overbearing workaholic that does all the work for everyone else in the office. Pulling, lifting overhead, and more, these muscles have a tendency to initiate many large movements at the shoulder that smaller muscles are initially intended to take charge of.  It's too the point that I (mostly) joke about just severing the nerve to the traps to see if can correct things that way.

This habitual dysfunction is a learned one, most likely from our desk job lives and sedentary behavior. (Being seated with arms elevated to high will shrug the shoulders up and result in increased tonicity of the traps.) Past that, poor education about body mechanics and constant reinforcement of using the incorrect muscles at home, at work, etc. grinds these habits in deep as we get used to using the largest and least-fatigueable of the shoulder muscles to do all the work. They're also muscles that are quick to spasm and guard in response to injury (such as whiplash). What's more, the popularity of weighted shrugs at the gym doesn't help, and removal of them from workout routines is, so often, one of the first instructions I give individuals in my office.

Why this is a problem is that this increased activity of the upper traps usually correlates to a weakness of the smaller scapular stabilizers (such as your serratus), both of which result in an excessive upward rotation of the shoulder blade and destabilization of the shoulder girdle.

While remembering that textbook perfect posture is not a realistic thing to have to worry about, if you do experience pain, these mechanics may be involved. Structures can be impinged from the incorrect shoulder positioning, you could have spasm through the upper traps causing neck pain, and you may be finding that your shoulder isn't handling well against impact and trauma.

With this in mind, you can see the importance of keeping those muscles beneath and below the shoulder blade strong and engaged while keeping the upper traps relaxed and ready as a complementary muscle to movement rather than the prime driver. And for crying out loud, stop shrugging at the gym; the only thing it helps is your ego.

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