The Upper Traps, over assessed, over blamed & very misunderstood!

There is a strong culture within physiotherapy to blame a specific structure, be it a muscle, ligament, nerve, fascia etc etc when things are sore and painful for our patients. The Upper Trapezius muscle is one such structure that gets an awful lot of blame, but unfairly and incorrectly in my opinion.

I regularly hear physio’s telling patients that this muscle is too tight or ‘over active’ and so the cause of their neck or shoulder pain. I hear them explaining how they can feel or see that this muscle is knotted and tense, and explain how it needs to be released, loosened and stretched. I also see and hear many therapists choosing exercises to help reduce upper traps activity, by focusing on the Lower Traps to restore the balance between them.

Well I argue the exact opposite approach is needed.

Most, if not all the painful upper traps I see are weak and long, not tight and short, and yes they can ‘feel’ tight and tense, but they ‘feel’ this way because they are over loaded due to being weak. Hence we don’t need to be stretching or massaging these muscles, we need to be giving strengthening exercises, which is completely alien and counter intuitive for some.

I argue that weak inefficient Upper Traps are often the culprit for a lot of shoulder and neck pains, and I argue that most Upper Traps need to be strengthened a lot more, a lot, lot more.

However lets first look at the anatomy and function of the Upper Traps to help us understand it better. The Trapezius muscle is a large flat muscle that is found down the side of your neck and top of your shoulders. Its the most superficial muscle of the upper back and runs from the base of your skull, along to the tip of your shoulder, all the way down to the middle of your back, see image below.

It is commonly described as having three separate portions, the upper, middle, and lower fibres. These sections are often described in the text books as having differing functions on the action of the shoulder blade (the scapula). The lower fibres are described as depressing it, the middle fibres retract it, and the upper fibres elevate and upwardly rotate it.

However, this is a very simplistic way to look at any muscle function. Firstly, no muscle works in isolation, all muscles work in synergy with others, and one muscle certainly doesn’t work in isolated parts, they tend work as a whole unit, albeit with some parts working harder than others during different movements.

How a muscle affects movement is also not just due to its insertions and origins, but also the orientation and angle of its muscle fibres. This is what Johnson and Bogduk looked at in the Trapezius muscle in their 1994 paper here.

What they found questioned the commonly held thoughts and explanations of how the Trapezius functions. But despite this paper being over 20 years old these findings are still not that well known and so many myths about the Traps still exist.

Johnson and Bogduk found that the angle and orientation of the upper fibres of Trapezius are unable to create ANY significant elevation of the scapula when the arm is in neutral. They also showed that the upper fibres need the co-ordinated assistance of the lower and middle fibres to upwardly rotate the scapula, highlighting that they do not function in isolation. They also found that the Trapezius muscle is insufficient to rotate or elevate the Scapula alone, instead it is its coupled action with the Serratus Anterior that does.

The action of the Serratus Anterior pulling the scapula laterally around the chest wall at about 30° of arm elevation is when the lower Trapezius muscles fibres first start to resist the movement, which then starts to cause the scapula to tilt into upward rotation. Once this upward rotation of the scapula has started then the upper Trapezius fibres further assist in its upward rotation and elevation.

The Upper Traps only really contribute to Scapula upward rotation and elevation once the arm is in slight abduction!

This not well known fact I think has some big implications on the exercises and movements given by physios and trainers that are thought to influence Trapezius muscle activity. For example does standard shrugging or hitching actions when the arm is in neutral target the Upper Traps as Scapula upward rotators? Not very much it seems, if at all.

Errrr, what…..!!! Shrugs don’t work the Upper Traps!!!

Well they do, anyone who has shrugged will tell you they do. But its only really when the arm is in > 30° of abduction and the scapula has already started to rotate do they really kick in!

With the arm in a neutral position, the other thing to consider is another key scapula elevator muscle that is working, the appropriately named Levator Scapulae. However, as the Levator Scapluae attaches onto the medial superior pole of the scapula, so it also creates downward scapula rotation, usually the exact opposite movement we are looking to achieve in a lot of shoulder problems.

Now what about studies showing ‘over activity’ in the Upper Traps and suggesting that we need to reduce it for shoulder problems such as research done by Ann Cools et al 2007.

Well as much as I really respect and admire the work Ann Cools and her colleagues over in Belguim have done, I think in regards to the Upper Trapezius they could be mistaken, and partly to blame for all this anti Upper Traps culture in physiotherapy.

Firstly, these studies look at upper Trapezius activity using surface electromyography or EMG, which is a useful tool, and I do like EMG research as it aids my exercise prescription and clinical reasoning by giving me an insight into a muscles level of activity. But they do have issues, and they are not infallible to error, and the information taken from such studies has to be used with caution.

For example despite normalisation procedures designed to limit the effect of cross talk between other muscles when using EMG equipment, there is always some, especially with surface EMG, and I suspect at the point often used for reading upper Trapezius activity it also picks up the Levator Scapulae. I have a suspicion that the Levator Scapulae cross talk maybe producing the so called high EMG readings from Upper Trapezius.

I also think the EMG readings of the Upper Trapezius can be ‘misinterpreted’ as high or ‘over active’ in those with shoulder pain and dysfunction due to another forgotten and overlooked action of this muscle!

A primary role of the Upper Trapezius is to distribute loads away from the neck.

The majority of the Upper Trapezius muscle fibres actually attach to the distal third of the clavicle and due to the orientation of these fibres, when they contract they rotate the clavicle medially. This rotation of the clavicle strongly compresses the sternoclavicular joint, and this is a rather useful action.

In fact it’s a bloody marvelous action and is probably the most beneficial and often overlooked action of the Upper Traps.

The compression of the sternoclavicular joint by the upper Trapezius allows forces and loads from the arm and shoulder to be transferred away from the neck, passing them down through the collar bone, into the sternum, rib cage and axial skeleton. Pretty damn useful, and maybe good to know for those with neck issues?

How many physios give Upper Traps strengthening exercises for those with neck pains or problems?

As I said, nearly all the upper Trapezius I see clinically are long and weak, struggling to upwardly rotate the Scapula efficiently. It is this struggling of a weak and fatigued muscle that I also think causes the ‘over active’ readings on EMG studies.

So instead of stretching, rubbing, poking sore and painful Upper Traps, lets get them stronger, more resilient, more robust.

It just seems daft to me to ask a muscle that wants to lift and elevate the scapula AND off loads the neck to work less! Of course get the Lower Traps and Serratus Anterior working, but why not ALSO get the Upper Traps to stronger as well! In my opinion and clinical experience when the Upper Traps become more resilient, more robust, more strong with exercise it only seems help those I see with shoulder and neck pains, not hinder them.

I regularly give out exercises and movements with an ’emphasis’ on strengthening the Upper Traps to patients with long standing neck and shoulder problems who have tried everything else, such as manual therapy, postural correction, rotator cuff work, scapula setting etc etc… With some really good results.

Some examples of the exercises I use are over head shrugs see picture below (I sometimes prefer the elbow a little more flexed so the arm isn’t too high in elevation as this can be a bit uncomfortable or un-achievable in those with sub acromial pain or stiffness).

Another exercise that I often give is one I’ve lovingly called ‘Monkey Shrugs’ these are done by holding your arms down by your sides then sliding them up the side of your body, up to about waist height so your elbows are bent slightly out to the side. I then ask the patient to shrug from this position. This really targets the Upper Trap muscle as the scapula is already in slight upward rotation and the arm is in approx 30-45° of abduction.

Here is a link to some videos I have done of the monkey shrugs and overhead shrugs

Now these are just some of the Upper Traps targeted exercises out there and they may not be suitable for all, and there are other Upper Traps targeted exercises such as Wall Slides, Face Pulls, or even the good old Y or W lifts, which have all been found on EMG studies to get high Upper Traps activity.

In summary I hope I have given you some food for thought about the poor old Upper Traps muscle and that you will not be as quick to blame this poor misunderstood muscle quite so often, and think twice before you dive in so quickly with massage, stretches or needles!

And I hope that you can see that by actually strengthening and improving the function of the Upper Traps it could help a lot of neck and shoulder problems, and that you might consider giving Upper Trap focused exercises for your patients more often.

As always thanks for reading

Happy healthy exercising


PS: NEWS FLASH, since writing this piece over a year ago there has been some research here supporting my opinions on the upper traps, hoooraaah! Obviously I’m as biased as hell and I think it’s a wonderful paper but have a read for yourselves. It shows that a modified shrugging action , with the arm in approx 30° abduction creates better scapula upward rotation but also greater upper and lower traps activity… Damn I love being right… probably… possibly… ;0) !!!

111 thoughts on “The Upper Traps, over assessed, over blamed & very misunderstood!

  1. Nice one Adam!

    Usually I related “UT pain” to excessively elongated trapezius, as some people, like ballerinas, tend to have depressed shoulders. Your view about the suprascapular nerve added some food for thought. Some people usually see pain and say lets do some massage or stretching but we should check why it actually is painful.

    I usually aplly the shoulder shrugh exercise you mentioned, never thought about the other one with the ropes.

    Great article!



  2. Very insightful piece. Good work.

    For the exercises you mention it would be nice to see a vt of them. Just in case someone went off on a whim and injured themselves

  3. Pingback: The Shoulder Issue | Pilates Scene

  4. Hey Adam, nice post.
    I agree too much time is spent on “tight upper traps” and time should be spent engaging them as per Janda’s upper cross pattern.
    My biggest negative for too much upper traps is more the anterior tilt it provides the scapula leading to impingement/poor scap and shoulder mechanics. Lower trap provides post tilt, thus increasing sub acromial space and that’s my understanding of the main reason for working it preferentially to upper traps. This comes from Kevin Wilk, a well know American baseball researcher.
    Love to get your thoughts.

    • Hi Luke

      Thanks for your comments, and to answer your question yes i agree the upper traps does contribute to anterior scapular tilt, but just as a hair dryer contributes to a hurricane, the main ‘culprit’ of anterior scapular tilt is the pec minor, so in my opinion focusing on the upper traps for correction of anterior tilt won’t achieve much, instead correcting pec minor length and increasing lower traps are the main treatment options and yes possibly a bit of upper trap correction may assist a little but it’s a matter of priorities and this would be low on my list in this scenario.

      Thanks again for your comments



  5. This is absolutely great stuff. I first heard about this UT importance from Shirley Sahrmann and Eric Cressey. This article is tremendous and goes over in depth of why we need to change our traditional shoulder rehab. I’ve been doing more of this in my practice and having a ton of success with shoulder patients. I found that your absolutely right, the levator scapulae is getting away with murder while the UT is being wrongfully accused.

    Just out of curiousity, do you use any verbal or tactile cues to increase upward rotation or scapula position (during exercises or postural)?

    Keep up the great work! Your blog is making physical therapists better.

    • Hi Aaron

      Thanks for your comments, tactile cues I don’t tend to use to much, I think if u coach the correct movement u dont need to touch them

      Verbal cues can be useful but again I keep it simple and give them instructions to perform the exercise correctly rather than give specific instructions

      I try and remember that I’m not going to be around the patient athlete all the time they do the exercise so they have to ‘internalise’ it rather than rely on external cues, also I like to remember that the body only knows movement not specific muscles so train the movement not the exercise



  6. Hi Adam,
    Whilst I agree that too much time is spent trying to release upper traps instead of focusing on the smaller cervical/head extensors such as lev scap, splenius, semispinalis, the suboccipitals (for headaches more so) etc…I disagree that the trapezius do not contribute to elevation of the scapula during shrugging (with the arms by the side).

    “For example if we just elevate the scapular with the arms down the sides (ie shrugging), are the upper traps working? NO they are not, its the Levator Scapulae (LS) doing the scapular elevation combined with downward rotation which is usually the exact movement we are looking to avoid with shoulder impingement problems.”

    Not only is the contraction easily palpable and readable on EMG, it is also a fundamental exercise for bodybuilders in developing the upper trapezius.

    Secondly, the lower trapezius attach to T12 (if they even go down that far, as it can have many variations in populations). It does not contribute to posterior pelvic tilt…

    “Yes get the lower traps working for increased posterior tilt etc etc, but also get the upper traps going and stronger too for increased scapular elevation, especially in arm positions of 90° or more”

    Posterior pelvic tilt involves the posterior superior iliac spine moving posteriorly and inferiorly. So even if this is a typo and you meant to say ‘anterior tilt’ the muscle simply cannot contribute to this action as its only attachment to the pelvis (being a miniscule portion of thoracolumbar fascia) would be far too small to have any effect.

    • Hi Chris

      Thanks for your comments… But…

      Firstly your totally getting your anatomy mixed up my friend, this is a post in the shoulder and scapular not the pelvis

      The posterior/anterior tilt I’m talking about is that of the scapular NOT the pelvis, to think the upper traps can rotate the pelvis is just plain crazy by any stretch of the imagination or kinetic chain!!!

      Next the upper traps DO NOT elevate or upwardly rotate the scapular with the arm in neutral, the fibre orientation and attachment points make this impossible, please read the paper I posted by Johnson and Bogduk 1994 some of the best anatomists around for more information, if you disagree with them, then I guess you are cleverer than me, and as I also said in my posts surface EMGs can be misleading and liable to cross talk of all those other muscles you so expertly mentioned

      Finally you state need to focus on the smaller muscles around the neck especially in headaches, I say why and how can you focus on these small specific muscles, the body can’t do it, it just knows movement, this whole blog was also indirectly about the nature of us physios creating these specific anatomy / function based issues due to some papers or research, I ask the opposite, keep it simple, keep it based on movement not anatomy



      • Sorry Adam, But you are both right and wrong!…..The upper traps primary function is to stabilize the scapula in relation to the cervical spine. Now, maybe it’s because you have been working on dysfunctional people and have never seen upper traps working in their optimal form!? but inhibiting the upper trapezius and other muscle groups using myofasical release techniques WILL and DOES turn the tonus down in the upper traps to instigate a better response from the middle traps and rhomboids during scapula retraction. So you are right in saying it’s job is not to elevate the scapula…but the upper traps have a massive EMG result in stabilizing the shoulder through levatae scapula elevation in relation to the position of the cervical spine!

        I think you need to get more experience working with functional (although there is hardly any) athletes and perform tests on them. I happen to be a structural integrator and movement specialist, and i can tell you when do a single arm shrug, i can feel the upper traps stabilize and fire.

        You need to remember that 95% of the western world are completely dysfunctional and researchers and conducting these tests that you are relating to on dysfunctional subjects.

        Try stepping outside the physio world and into the world of Strength and Conditioning…it maybe a good eye opener



        • Hi Andy, thank you for your comments

          I’m sorry, but your mistaken on a number of counts, first and foremost with regards to me stepping out into S&C world as you put, I was / am a qualified S&C coach before I became a physio, and although I do work predominately with injured people nowadays I also work with those who are not!

          Next your statement that 95% of the western world are dysfunctional is just blatantly erroneous, inaccurate and by the sounds of it made up, do you have any evidence for this claim and what to you mean by dysfunctional and according to who?

          Working in this industry I come across lots of people making ridiculous, uneducated and scaremongering claims like these without a shred of justification or evidence to back them up, so I’m sorry Andy unless you can show me a scrap of evidence your credibility to discuss movement, functional or dysfunctional is low, even if you are a structural integrator?

          I don’t think you have fully understood my article or read the Johnson paper, as I mention shrugging with the arm in the pendant position ie down your side doesn’t produce much activity in the upper traps, the angle and orientation on there fibres means it’s just not possible. I’d argue what you feel when you shrug here is predominately the Levator scapulae. Shrugging with the scap in upper ward rotation such as with the arms in >30° of abduction such as when on a trap bar does produce much more activity in the upper traps, hence my argument shrugging with arms down by the sides isn’t a good exercise.

          Finally in regards to your claim that myofascial release WILL & DOES inhibit upper traps and so making middle traps and rhomboids work better, again I’m afraid is nonsense that is based I’m assuming on your own experience anecdotal evidence and so confirmation bias, I have read A LOT around MFR and haven’t seen any compleling evidence that it turns ANYTHING off or on, it only gives a sensation of ‘release’ via neuro modulation effects!

          Once again thanks for your comments but you make a lot of logical fallacys and I would respectfully ask that you try some further reading on neuro science, manual therapy techniques, biomechanics and kinematics



    • Oh one other point to answer that you made Chris…

      Shrugging as a fundamental exercise for weight lifters upper traps development is flawed and recognised by many as not the best way to develop them

      Instead higher MVIC and better ‘development’ in the upper traps is seen with exercises such as overhead presses, lateral arm raises and face pulls etc



  7. Hi Adam,

    I just wrote an article on the activation of the trapezius and and I made reference to your great explanation of upper trap function.

    I’m wondering if it’s even possible to preferentially recruit a specific region of the trap. When therapists say there is an imbalance between the UT and LT, this implies that each region can be activated with some degree of independence. I’m not aware of any muscle where we can strengthen one part while reducing activity in another as is often the case with exercises designed to target the lower trap and correct this claimed imbalance. If the trapezius is getting used, wouldn’t the whole muscle more or less have to contract?



    • Hi James

      Thanks for your comments and I’ll go and check out your article right after this.

      That’s a very interesting comment, my thoughts are that a muscle does have different portions that can be more ‘active’ than others when performing an exercise/movement, but you’re right we can’t just isolate said portions.

      My issue is the negativity surrounding the upper traps in favour of the lower traps, when there really is no need in my opinion



  8. hI Adam, great post, however, just a quick thought. I have checked this issue in the past with therapists that are Janda trained and the answer to this could be that biomechanically you are correct, but from the Neuro standpoint, the Upper Trap is a muscle that shows a tendency towards overactivation. I think this is where Cool’s study points to. Will appreciate your take on this, David

    • Hi David

      Thanks for your comments, in my opinion I don’t think you can separate the two, neural ‘over’ or ‘under’ activity whatever that is will also create muscular over/under activity

      So I think answer your question is that I disagree with anyone that says the upper trapezius muscle is over activity neuro – muscularly if that’s even a word! Yes the lower traps normally need work in most with shoulder problems but so do the upper traps



    • This is true- both levator and upper traps are tonic muscles rather than phasic. As for stretching for people who work at a desk, this is more to do with levator, upper traps, and the suboccipitals being tonic and creating cervical and capital extension rather than the protraction component (which would be better dealt with by inhibiting the tonic pectoralis muscles). Middle and lower traps tend to be phasic/inhibited which is why emphasis is put on strengthening them over upper traps. Of course the individual client needs to be taken into account as well as the specific biomechanical issues they are presenting with.

  9. Hi Adam. Thanks a lot for the article. Beginning last year I had some rotator cuff pain and impingement which has improved. I performed exercises like the wall plank and upward wall slides with elbow facing forward as I moved my hand up. These exercises among others I was introduced by Dr. Evan Osar. He has always made a lot of sense to me even though what he was saying was the opposite of what a lot of physios and chiros teach their patients(like it’s your upper trap, you need to pull your scapula down and back. He believes that with shoulder impingement and upper back and neck chronic tension, the problem is not the upper trap but rather the dominance of the downward scapular rotators namely the rhomboids, pec minor, and levator scap. Pulling shoulders down and back from what I’ve now learned puts the shoulder into and impingement position and only further increases the workload of the the already dominant and tight downward rotators. Instead he promotes the activation of the usually under utilized upward scapular rotators namely the serratus anterior and trapezius to improve impingement and scapular control…anyways although my rotator cuff pain has improved I still have a lot of tension in my upper back neck area (upper rhomboid and levator.) I’ve seen different chiros and they say you need to pull down and back and it just doesn’t help nor does it make sense to me. After a long day at work it’s like my muscles probably levator scapula is fatigued from carrying my arm around all day. However, if I raise my arms and shrug activating the upper trap, it’s not a problem. It actually feels good. Finally, do you think adding elevated arm shrugs to my workout is a good idea? I’m desperate to alleviate this tension I’ve been living with for over a year now and have seen multiple doctors and spent prob around 2000 dollars on this problem.

    • Hi Zack

      Thanks for your comments, I think the culture of physios and other therapists asking all there clients to stand up straight and pull their shoulders back and down for neck and shoulder pains and problems is a common problem based on poor understanding of biomechanics

      As you correctly say pulling back and down can, and often does increase scapular downward rotation, scapular upward rotation and posterior tilt are key for nearly every shoulder compliant I know especially sub acromial impingement, so working the muscles that help this can only be a good thing that’s the Serratus Anterior, Lower Fibres of Traps, but also the Upper Fibres as well

      I do like over head shrugs for upper trap strengthening but they can sometimes be uncomfortable if the arm is to straight, so try them but keep arm slightly bent and if any pain stop

      Hope that helps



      • Thanks for the reply Adam,

        My tension is usually triggered from standing up straight for long periods of time, and simply having my arms hang down really tightens up that whole levator upper rhomboid area. Also sitting without being able to use the back rest can make the muscles really tight and fatigue. If I’m laying down or reclining there is no tension nor is there much of a problem with exercising as long as it doesn’t involve a lot of neck movements( I had to quit playing hockey). Even though chiros have warned me not to perform overhead exercises, they don’t irritate the tension at all. So I plan on trying to incorporate some overhead shrugs into my workout routine. However, if the upper trapezius is only activated during upward rotation of the scapula, would I see any benefit from strengthening the upper trapezius? I ask this because my tension is often engendered by standing with arms hanging, and I presume the levator and rhomboid are tightening due to simply carrying the weight of the arm. Also I’m curious as to what your thoughts on stretching the levator and rhomboid. My chiro said for my case it would be like pulling on a knotted rope or rubber band and stretching would release the muscle but just make it tighter.


  10. Adam,

    Great article! I have been dealing with headaches and neck/upper trap pain for 10 months now. I have a headache everyday stemming from the neck. My traps are ridiculously sore throughout the day but primarily in the morning. A slight roll backwards in my shoulders brings a stabbing sensation to the traps.

    I have tried everything, neurologist, brain MRI, spine MRI, spine specialist, physical therapy, massage, chiropractor, rest, etc. and nothing has worked. I have a headache every morning when I wake up until I fall asleep at night.

    I found your article interesting in that it is in a different perspective than most articles you read. Are you suggesting that I should try and exercise these muscles rather than rest them? The rest hasn’t brought any relief, I am open to any suggestions. Thanks for your help!


    • Hi Stefan

      Its obviously very difficult to give advise and diagnosis without assessing you, but it might be worth giving the strengthening exercises for the upper traps a go as nothing else has worked

      Let me know how it goes



  11. Hey Adam, I’ve been struggling with a trap issue for a couple of years now, so I’m wondering if you know how to help me out. My traps are either over or under compensating when I do many exercises (anything to do with the arms, chest, or shoulders like curls, push ups, pull ups, dips, db bench press, military press etc.). On my left arm my traps really strong and I can’t even flex my bicep without my trap flexing as well. This is making my arm weaker, or so it seems, and not letting my left bicep, pec, tricep, and forearm strengthen. On my right arm, my trap is much smaller and weaker than the left one, however my bicep, tricep, forearm, and pec are larger and stronger. This is a problem as well because I’m having difficulty strengthening my right trap without my arm doing all of the work. I have tried correcting my form (it is good) and doing other stuff to fix the problems, but nothing works and the problem continues to worsen. I’m not sure wether its my left or right trap that has a problem, or both. So I would really appreciate it if you could explain to me what the issue is and what to do to fix it. Stuff like exercises or stretches. Thanks

    • Hi Gus

      I’m really sorry but diagnosing and assessing you online just isn’t possible, if have to see you and watch you move and lift etc

      My advise is try and get a sports Physio to assess you fully

      Sorry again



  12. Hi Adam,

    Any overhead movement brings on my shoulder impingement so I was interested in your “monkey shrugs” however I cannot find the on google and I fear I will get it wrong from your description. Any chance of a video or picture?

    Many thanks,

  13. Hey man great post, i am no physio but feel i have been misdiagnosed like somany others! i Have scapula winging, after so long focusing on lengthening other muscles i feel this has been waste and get most tenstion buildup and a bit of pain in my upper shoulder to my neck on my left side. Its so overpowering any push pull movements feel like their prime mover is where the tension lies..if that makes sense. Would you suggest using the exercices above? My current routine:squat, overhead press, bent over row, deadlift. P.s if there are ny thoer special exercices for muscles groups which can combat the levator scapulare that would be great!

    • Hi Daniel

      It sounds like you’ve got a good routine! Remember your winging scapular may have nothing to do with any shoulder issues, I see some winging scapular that don’t cause any problems, but also some that do?

      You could give the upper trapezius strengthening exercises a go and see if they help, here is a link to some videos of them I have done

      Kind regards


      • Thanks mate i have tried and cant really feel my left upper trap like i can my right. This is such a problem for me as my winging stops me from performing push/pull exercices well ass i cant activate and use the muscles on the left side so trying anything and everything to help, my scpaula on my left side is just stuck in downward rotation for most of the time, What would you suggest just the stuff you previously mentioned as obiously the overhead shrug is hard to do as i cannot get full upward rotation my scapula doesnt fully roatate on my left side which stops upper trap activation. Any advice thanks

  14. Hi Adam,

    First thanks for the great info. I have been dealing with tight traps and pain the the thorasic vertabrae for the last six months. I started when I believe to have torn my traps performing shrugs with a trap bar. I have been to doctors, chiropractors and all in search of a cure and not a temporary pain relief. Of course rest was applied, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories and ice but here I am 6 months later with the pain. I have lost a lot of strength in the traps and sometime one of my thorasic vertabraes feels as if its swollen and bruised. Like if I pulled a muscle attaching to the vertabrae. No doctor has recommended x-rays or mri :-(. They say its just a muscle strain but this is 6 months now. Any advice on what I should do in this case.

    Thank you so much for your time,



    • Hi Phillip

      I’m afraid its really hard to give good accurate advice online, but I can assure you that your vertebrae cannot be swollen or bruised!

      Where and what is causing the pain can be tricky to determine, remember that pain isn’t always a sign of damage and that it can be felt in different parts of the body what’s called referred pain, my advice is to see a good respectable physio for a full assessment and hopefully some answers, I hope that helps a bit

      All the best


      • Thanks for the quick reply Adam! The pain in my vertabrae is hasnt come in a while but the traps are still very tight and painful at times. Shrugs make them feel better though but the first few reps hurt.

  15. can you not just look at the position of the scapular (upwardly or downwardly rotated) and then decide up upper traps or LS are responsible for the tightness?

    • Hi Dan

      So many things act and influence the position of the scapular that we can’t just use its resting position to give us any useful reliable information I’m afraid



  16. Adam,

    Thanks for posting your article, I have been slowly coming to some of these conclusions over time with treating shoulder pain clients and seeing that just stretching the UT’s just wasn’t the trick. I have recently been trying to specifically release the lev. scap. without further stretching the upper traps and have been training the serratus but I think you may of just filled in the gap in my approach. UT training it is!

    Thanks again, you’ve made a positive difference to me and and my patients with your work.

    Kindest regards


  17. your way is what we learn at my school in copenhagen, as the “right” way, (im finish in 4 month). Its interesting to see how things change over time and what is considered a good treatment changed with new studies etc.

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