Neck Pain Relief in Minutes Per Week
I worked as a massage therapist for two years. During that time, there was one client request that was more common than every other request COMBINED. When I asked what area they wanted me to focus on, people pointed to their upper back/neck. They felt frequent stress/discomfort in those muscles and wanted relief.
This area is known as the upper and middle trapezius muscles, or "traps." Pain in the traps, or trapezius myalgia, is the second most common muscle/skeletal pain (after lower back pain) . It's more common in women and very common in people who have computer-based jobs. For some, it's caused by an overuse of the traps due to repetitive and monotonous work tasks. Another common cause is the muscle imbalance that results from poor sitting posture used during computer work.
Regardless of the cause, if you have pain in your traps, you can relieve this without a massage therapist. Strength training can chronically relief your discomfort...in just MINUTES a week.
What Works & Why
A few studies have looked at the ability of exercise to reduce trap pain. Here's what they found:
Strength training vs. cycling. Women with neck pain participated in strength training, cycling, or a control group for 10 weeks . Both exercise groups did 20 minutes of activity, three days per week. The cycling group became more aerobically fit but didn't relieve any neck pain. Strength training led to a large reduction in neck pain on average, and 17 of the 18 women had less pain at the end.
2 min. vs. 12 min. per day of strength training. For 10 weeks, working men and women with frequent neck/shoulder pain participated in strength training . The strength training took place five days per week for either two minutes or 12 minutes per day. At the end, both groups had neck pain relief. Both routines were equally effective.
In both cases, strength training in the traps and surrounding areas led to trap pain relief. Why does strength training help? There are a few explanations for this . Strength training increases strength in the traps, which results in reducing the stress and workload on the traps during daily tasks. Training the muscles also accelerates the development of new, healthier muscle tissue which replaces the damaged muscle tissue (over time).
Based on the research and my experience, here are my recommendations for using strength training to reduce trapezius pain:
My go-to exercise for trap pain relief. In my experience, the most effective exercise is shrugs. This can be done with dumbbells, a barbell, or cables. I find that it works best when the weight is challenging. Choose a weight that you can do a maximum of 10-15 reps with. If the weight is too light, it may not relieve muscle pain.
Other exercises that can help. Rows (cable or machine), lateral raises, reverse flyes, and upright rows are other exercises which were used in research to relieve trap pain.
Training amount. As little as one set with a challenging weight, performed twice per week, is enough to chronically reduce pain. I have found this amount to work when using shrugs with clients. Also, a single set was proven effective in the research .
Trap pain vs. cervical spine pain. Trapezius pain is a muscular issue and could be helped with strength training. Cervical spine pain (whiplash, arthritis) is a different issue. This information doesn't apply to cervical spine issues.
Andersen, L.L., Kjaer, M., Sogaard, K., Hansen, L., Kryger, A.I., & Sjogaard, G. (2008). Effect of two contrasting types of physical exercise on chronic neck muscle pain. Arthritis Care & Research: Official Journal of the American College of Rheumatology, 59(1), 84-91.
Andersen, L.L., Saervoll, C.A., Mortensen, O.S., Poulsen, O.M., Hannerz, H., & Zebis, M.K. (2011). Pain, 152(2), 440-446.