A great many people overuse the trapezius muscle, the large diamond shaped muscle of the upper back. The trapezius muscle is usually separated into three sections—lower, middle and upper—with different functions.
The upper trapezius muscle shrugs the shoulders and extends the neck. The middle fibers retract the shoulder blades towards the spine. The lower portion both draws the shoulder blade down and helps the upper fibers upwardly rotate the shoulder blade.
I often say that I teach diagnostically, starting classes with particular poses that allow me to see what is going in with the particular group of students in the room. Supta baddha konasana is one example. If I have everyone lay flat on their backs with the knees bent and the soles of the feet together I can instantly see what is happening with everyone’s hips.
Another is plank to the floor. Moving from downward dog to plank and then watching everyone lower down to the floor I can discern a great deal about how they use their core and shoulders.
All too often I see both the upper and lower trapezius muscle suffer.
When someone lowers from plank to the floor not much should happen other than the arms bending as the rest of the body lowers to the ground. If you stand up with your arms outstretched directly in front of you with the wrists flexed, and bend the elbows to bring your hands alongside your chest you are going from plank to the floor without the weight bearing that goes along with being horizontal.
(You can see all this in the video below which is a fun bit of mayhem but you have to put up with some shaky cam and silliness from my children)
If you do this standing up it should be very easy to keep everything but the arms steady. Trying this from plank is a whole other story. The difficulty often results from a lack of correct tone in the abdominal muscles but if often manifests in the trapezius muscles flailing about in search of their proper function.
Two things often happen to the trapezius muscle on the journey to the floor. The shoulders often hike up towards the ears as the upper trapezius muscle overworks, and/or the head of the arm bone takes a dive forward and down due to the inability of the lower trapezius muscle to counter the pull of the tight pectoralis minor.
I am sure it will be no big surprise to hear I think much of the trouble that people encounter with the trapezius muscle stems from poor pelvic posture and low abdominal tone. Misaligned bones and muscles that lack the ability to stabilize the lower spine lead to all sorts of trouble with the upper back, head and neck.
Later this week I’ll write about upper cross syndrome and some trapezius exercises.