How to Self-Massage Your Trapezius Muscle

Three steps to relieving your trap muscles on your own

The trapezius (traps) muscle is a triangle-shaped upper back muscle that starts at the base of your neck, spans the length of your upper shoulders, and extends down into your middle back.

This muscle's main function is to stabilize and move your scapula (shoulder blade). The trapezius also helps you move your head, neck, arms, shoulders, and torso, stabilizes your spine, and plays an important role in posture.

Physical and mental stress can make your trapezius muscle tight, leading to pain in your neck and shoulders. Fortunately, learning to give yourself a trap massage can ease traps tension. This article will teach you how.

Woman rubbing sore neck
Sam Edwards / Getty Images

Before Your Trap Massage

Before you can give yourself a trap massage, you need to know where your trapezius muscle is located.

The trapezius consists of three different parts in three different areas of your back. It spans the bottom of your skull, across your shoulders, and down most of your back.

The focus of a trap massage is the upper portion of the trapezius (upper trapezius or upper traps, for short). This part is located at the top of your shoulders.

To find your upper trapezius, cross one arm in front of your body so that you can place the palm of your hand on top of the other shoulder.

For your trapezius muscle massage, you will also need to know where your upper traps starts—in other words, where the muscle connects to a bone. There are two areas to pinpoint.

The first point is on the bottom of your skull, close to the center of the back of your skull. Start there with your fingers and trace the muscle down the back of your neck to the place where the shoulders start to widen out.

If you get lost, try to locate the vertebra at the base of your neck (in back) that kind of sticks out.

That's called C-7 and is another one of the upper trapezius's origin sites. On either side of that bump, you can walk your fingers either up or down the muscle to re-locate the origin at the base of the skull, discussed above.

Trapezius Muscle Massage Technique

While a quality massage oil can hydrate your skin during a trap massage, it's optional. Aside from your own hands, you don't need anything else to perform the trap massage. If you have longer hair, however, you may wish to tie it up.

A trapezius muscle massage involves three steps:

Start at the Base of Your Neck

Choose one shoulder to work with at a time.

  • Raise the arm on the opposite side of your body. Reach this arm across your body and fold it around your neck, so that your fingers come to a rest at the back base of your neck.
  • Apply a decent amount of pressure to the muscle next to our spine while moving your fingers in a circular motion. The action is similar to kneading dough.
  • Massage this area at the base of your neck for about 30 seconds to start. If this part of your muscle is particularly sore, there is no harm in massaging it longer—so long as it feels good.

Slowly Work Your Way Out

Once you have spent about 30 seconds massaging the muscle at the base of your neck, you can start to work your way out toward the end of your shoulder.

  • Inch your way across your trapezius muscle in close increments, spending at least 30 seconds at each point.
  • Follow the muscle until you reach the end of your shoulder.
  • Use slow, rhythmic movements to apply enough pressure that you feel "the good hurt." If the pressure is not enjoyable or makes you wince, then it's too much.

In the field of massage therapy, a level of pressure that slightly hurts but still feels good is called "the good hurt."

Repeat as Needed

Repeat each side of your trapezius muscle two to three times before switching to the other shoulder.

You may notice after massaging one or both shoulders that a certain area of your trapezius muscle is particularly sore or tense. Feel free to zero in on those areas a little longer.

Remember to relax throughout your trap massage. This is a great opportunity to learn where you hold tension in your neck and shoulders and how to apply pressure to relieve it.

This knowledge can also help you check in with yourself throughout your day, whether you are sitting at an office desk, doing chores around the house, or something else.

If you notice that you are scrunching or slouching your shoulders, take a few moments to massage your trapezius muscle and remind yourself to keep your shoulders relaxed.

Trapezius Muscle Benefits

Tension and tightness in the trapezius muscle is common, particularly among people who work in an office, do manual labor, or who are simply dealing with a lot of stress.

Trapezius strains are a common overuse injury that is more likely to happen when your traps muscle is tight. The injury can cause you to alter your posture to avoid the pain.

Unfortunately, poor posture will only place more stress on your traps muscle, ultimately leading to a cycle of poor posture and chronic trapezius pain.

In addition to reducing pain and stiffness in your trapezius muscle, a trap massage can benefit you in many ways, including:

  • Improved blood circulation
  • Faster muscle recovery after workouts
  • Decreased swelling
  • Better posture
  • Improved range of motion
  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Better quality of sleep

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

Like any other muscle in your body, your trapezius muscle can get injured and require special treatment to recover. In some cases, your neck or shoulder pain may not be coming from your trapezius muscle at all.

Consider seeing your healthcare provider if you have pain in your neck or shoulder that doesn't get better within a week or two, especially if it isn't responding to at-home treatment.

Regardless of how long you have been experiencing pain or stiffness, if it is preventing you from getting adequate sleep or interfering with your daily activities, contact your healthcare provider.

Reasons you should see your healthcare provider immediately for your neck or shoulder pain include:

  • You have sudden left shoulder pressure or pain, which can sometimes signal a heart attack
  • You had a fall or accident that resulted in pain, swelling, or problems moving your neck or arm
  • You have shoulder pain along with a fever, swelling, or redness
  • The skin in your shoulder area appears discolored

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you prevent tight muscles in the neck and shoulders?

    You can prevent tight muscles in your neck and shoulders by improving your posture, stretching at least once per day, and massaging your muscles as needed. If you sit at a desk for long hours each day, it's important to take regular breaks to stretch and move your muscles.

  • How do you massage your trapezius muscle safely?

    Massage your trapezius safely by applying the right amount of pressure. You should not feel like you are pushing the limits of your pain when massaging your trapezius. You should feel just enough pain that the massage still feels good. Pain greater than this is no longer safe.

  • How do I release tension in my traps?

    You can release tension in your traps by doing shoulder shrugs throughout the day and by stretching regularly—especially after long hours sitting at a desk. When your trapezius feels tight or sore, you can also give yourself a trapezius muscle massage to release tension.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. University of Washington Department of Radiology. Trapezius.

  3. Marker RJ, Campeau S, Maluf KS. Psychosocial stress alters the strength of reticulospinal input to the human upper trapezius. Journal of Neurophysiology. 2017;117(1):457-466. doi: 10.1152/jn.00448.2016

  4. Salavati M, Akhbari B, Takamjani I, Ezzati K, Haghighatkhah H. Reliability of the upper trapezius muscle and fascia thickness and strain ratio measures by ultrasonography and sonoelastography in participants with myofascial pain syndrome. J Chiropr Med. 2017 Dec;16(4):316-323. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2017.06.003

  5. Mount Sinai. Shoulder pain.

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.