Does your neck hurt? Does it feel tight too? This is probably the number one injury I see – neck pain caused by muscular tightness. It’s not surprising as there are plenty of different muscles located in your neck. These vary in size from large to small. I’d like to focus on just one of them. It’s the most commonly at fault muscle that I see – the trapezius.
You may not know it’s name, but you’ll definitely know where it is. It’s that muscle right on the side of your neck, just above your shoulder. You know, the one that you’re always complaining about at the end of the day. The one that you can never seem to get to relax. The one that always seems to be really tight during periods of stress.
Well, if it’s that tight it must be strong too, right? Unfortunately, it rarely is! This may seem strange at first glance but it makes more sense if you think about it. If a muscle is really tight then it is already in a full state of contraction. In order for muscles to be strong they need to go through a cycle of contracting and then relaxing again. This ability to be able to relax is absolutely necessary. Without it, you can’t fully recruit all of the muscles fibres and get a really forceful contraction.
This then starts to create a larger problem. If the trapezius isn’t strong enough to do it’s job properly then something else will try and pickup the slack. The problem is that these other muscles are usually not well suited to do the job of the trapezius and they then get fatigued and painful.
So, how would your physiotherapist fix the problem? Well, the first step is to relax the trapezius. This is usually accomplished through a blend of treatment techniques:
- Deep soft tissue release (think massage but more intense),
- Intramuscular stimulation (often just called IMS, where thin acupuncture needles are used to release tight bands of the muscles), and
- Instruction on the appropriate stretching exercises to do at home
However, relaxing the muscle is only the first part of the solution. The second step is to strengthen that muscle so that the problem doesn’t keep coming back to haunt you. Your physiotherapist can show you the relevant exercises that will help strengthen the muscle effectively.
So, in summary, tight does not equal strong! This applies not only to your neck, but to many other tight muscles in your body. If the above scenario sounds like it could be you, then give our office a call and setup an assessment so one of our physiotherapists can help you get back to feeling better!
MScPT, CGIMS, CAFCI, CSCS
Co-Owner of South Cowichan Physiotherapy
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