How to Self-Massage Your Trapezius Muscle

Help relieve stress and tension due to long hours at the computer

If you work in an office, do manual labor, or simply have a lot of stress in your life, chances are your upper trapezius muscles are constantly tight. These are the muscles that go across the tops of your shoulders.

Tight trapezius muscles have a nasty habit of limiting your neck, arm, and upper back movement. When you can soften and release this area, you'll likely find you feel better, you've improved your upper body posture, and have increased your energy.

The problem is, most of us don't have concierge massage therapists who accompany us through all we do, for those times when we get tight. So if there's no one around with whom you feel comfortable enough to ask for a massage, you'll either need to take care of it yourself or continue to suffer under the weight of too-tight trap muscles

So if you're game to be your own upper traps massage therapist, here's a simple technique that takes less than 5 minutes to complete—and is very easy to learn.

Woman rubbing sore neck
Sam Edwards / Getty Images


The first step is to accurately locate your trapezius muscle. This is a big muscle with three different parts in three different areas of your back, spanning the bottom of your skull, across your shoulders, and down most of your back. It is the main focus of this technique.

You need only locate the upper portion (again, at the top of the shoulder). This part of the trapezius muscle is called the upper trapezius (or upper traps, for short).

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

Next, we'll locate the origin of the upper traps, i.e. where the muscle connects to a bone. The origin of the upper traps is actually a complicated matter, but for our purposes, we'll visit two of its places.

The first one is on the bottom of your skull, close to the center of the back of your skull. A good learning experience is to 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 on either up or down the muscle to re-locate the origin at the base of the skull, discussed above.

If you were a professional massage therapist you'd likely want to also locate by palpation (which is what you just did by touching the muscle in specific places) the insertion (other ends) of the trapezius muscle. 

For basic stress and tension relief techniques such as the one described below, though, this isn't necessary. In truth, the insertion of the upper traps is even more complicated (and therefore difficult to accurately locate) than the origin.

Self-Massage Technique

So, are you ready to try this? It's a good idea to do one shoulder at a time.

  1. Beginning at the base of the neck, use one hand to knead the muscles located at the top of the shoulder on the opposite side (of the hand you're using.) The action is similar to kneading bread dough.
  2. Work with a slow, rhythmic action, moving out toward the arm in increments. Use a pressure that is deep enough to make a difference, but still feels good (and safe.) In the field of massage therapy, we call this "the good hurt." 
  3. Repeat 2 to 3 times on that side and then do it again on the other shoulder. 
  4. Remember to relax and enjoy!
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4 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.
  1. 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

  2. Domingo AR, Diek M, Goble KM, Maluf KS, Goble DJ, Baweja HS. Short-duration therapeutic massage reduces postural upper trapezius muscle activity. Neuroreport. 2017 Jan 18;28(2):108-110. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0000000000000718

  3. University of Washington Department of Radiology. Trapezius.

  4. MedlinePlus. Palpation.