Massaging the upper traps

I’m going to begin sharing some thoughts from doing massage…

The trapezius is an interesting muscle. It’s big, shaped like a kite (a trapezoid), covers a large area of the back from T12 up and out to the shoulders, and then attaches to the back of the skull.

Unlike a bicep, the belly of the trapezius is not in the middle of the muscle. The belly is in the soft part of the shoulder, between the shoulder joint and the neck. This part is nicknamed the upper trap. The rest of the muscle is rather flat.


The upper traps hold a lot of tension on most people’s bodies. It’s rare to work on someone who doesn’t have tightness there. Often the upper trap is overdeveloped or unevenly developed. Usually one side is worse than the other (and it’s often but not always related to handedness).

Now, I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that a lot of why this muscle is such a problem is because many of us work with our hands out in front of our torsos, and that muscle supports those lifted arms. I notice it on people who use a keyboard a lot. Also hairdressers, chefs, pianists, an interpreter for the deaf. Hands out in front, right?

Oh, yeah, and massage therapists.

When I do Swedish massage, I love working on the shoulders. My favorite part is the testing I do when I finish working on the first shoulder. I give both upper traps a gentle squeeze. I can really tell the difference between the shoulder that’s been massaged and the one that hasn’t. The upper trap that’s been massaged has tissue that feels lean and pliable, like a racehorse ready for a race. It seems to sparkle with energy.

The upper trap not worked on feels stiffer, more swollen, and congested.

That’s the difference that massage makes.

When I do Ashiatsu barefoot massage, I do a lot of work on the shoulders with my feet, both seated behind the client’s head and standing on the table. It makes a big difference. If you haven’t had Ashiatsu, you might be amazed at how I can work the shoulders with my feet. Loosening the shoulder blade, working the between-the-shoulder-blade area, pressing into the upper trap…

If a client needs extra attention to their shoulders (and we have time for it), after I finish the Ashiatsu, I manually work on the shoulders. Kneading is something I can do with my hands that I can’t do with my feet. Sometimes that’s the main thing the upper trap needs, to be kneaded repeatedly to really get the blood flowing throughout the upper traps. It’s that squeezing out of stale blood so it can be replaced by fresh blood bringing oxygen that changes the quality of the muscle tissue, at least in my understanding.

Wondering what to do about upper trap pain in between massages? One remedy available for office workers is to sit in a chair with arm rests that support your forearms comfortably while you use your keyboard. If you don’t use the existing armrests, then it’s not comfortable. Find out if you can adjust them to become comfortable.

That will take some of the load off the upper traps.

Also, even though putting heat on sore muscles feels good, ice is better. Too much heat for too long makes the tissue feel sluggish. If you feel like you just gotta use heat, alternate heat and cold, doing no more than 5 minutes of each. That will get your circulation going.

Don’t forget, there’s always arnica and epsom salt!

Coming soon: the levator scapula. Many people with upper trap issues also have levator scapula issues.

What Ashiatsu clients say about it

Here’s what my clients are saying about Ashiatsu:

“Just got a great ashiatsu session from MaryAnn Reynolds in her cozy office on W. 12th Street. She was able to deliver bodywork with deep and responsive pressure, and my sore calves (hiking in vibrams anyone?) feel much looser & less painful now. Would highly recommend her bodywork as well as her deep personal knowledge of the body itself. Thanks!”

“I don’t know what you did to my shoulders last time, but afterwards they were so loose it felt like my hands were dragging on the ground.”

“That was the best massage I’ve ever had.”

“One Ashi session is the equivalent of three regular massages. It saves time and money and really gets the stress out. I feel great afterwards.”

“Ashiatsu is good medicine.”

“Great pressure and contact. Felt safe and cared for. MaryAnn knows her anatomy!”

“I loved this! It was very different, but I enjoyed experiencing these long, deep strokesVery refreshing experience. Thank you so much!!!”

“I really relaxed and felt better afterwards.”

Reiki at the end — great job — thank you!”

“I enjoyed her intuition and perception of my needs! Her ability to adjust and incorporate different strokes to better meet a particular need in my body. Thank you!”

My home page has more about The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin!

Sunday morning: a little trauma release, a fine buzz, then some yoga jazz, and a tribute to a teacher

Long-time readers know I spent some time and energy on learning the trauma releasing exercises of David Berceli and practicing them. (If you’re a new reader, you can search this blog for TRE or trauma releasing exercises or Berceli to see my many posts on the topic.

If you want to learn them, I recommend Berceli’s book and video.)

I haven’t written much about them for a while. I still value them very much as a tool for releasing tension.

Sometimes at ecstatic dance, I allow my legs to shake. Nobody notices or comments, ever.

Some mornings I wake up and just know I need to do them. I may tremble for 30 seconds to a minute or two. It doesn’t have to last long to be effective.

I imagine that the more you do them and really surrender to them, the less you need to do them. Also, the more you do them, the more aware you become of tensions accumulating in your body, and you adjust sooner — taking a deep, cleansing breath to let it all out, stretching and moving the tense area.

This morning I did them for longer, because my body wanted to keep going. First my legs surrendered to the shaking, then left my arm flapped, then right my arm flapped, then my lower spine hammered, then my upper spine waved, then more legs, and so on. It’s entertaining to witness where the surrendering moves!

Then afterward, the fine buzz inhabiting my body. Mmm. Chi. Prana. Energy.

Walk to my yoga mat. Tadasana, feeling feet, upward energy. Stretching arms up into hastasana circling to anjali mudra several times to warm shoulders up, each with my gaze a little higher, a little more backbend to stretch the front fascial lines.

Then from hips, float down into uttanasana and just hang, stretching the back fascial lines. Feel my tight hamstrings. Hold. Breathe. They become like rubber bands, surrendering to the stretch. Then extend spine and re-bow.

Left leg back into lunge. Feeling the tight gastrocnemius and soleus. Push heel back and breathe. Right leg back to join it. Breathe length into calves.

Plank, with spread fingers, sturdy column arms under shoulders. Feel strength. Pressing palms and fingers evenly into mat, slowly lowering into chataranga, feeling creaks and twinges in shoulders and elbows.

Once flat, press pelvis and tops of feet into floor and lift up into bhujangasana, cobra. Imagine the fronts of my vertebrae, deep in the middle of my torso, fanning wide open to give and receive and expand my energy. This spine, this flexible column of bone, fluids, muscle, nerve, dura, this central channel, this backbone. Yes.

Turn toes under. Strongly lift my body up, elevating my pelvis as high as it will go. Push palms and fingers evenly into floor. Push heels back to stretch my soles (I’m hearing my teacher Eleanor Harris now). Lift sit bones to ceiling. Rise on tiptoes, then settle on feet, allowing spine to surrender to gravity between cranium and sacrum. Feel strong shoulders. Downward-facing dog, adho mukha svanasana.

“Enjoy your breath,” as my teacher Brigitte Edery is fond of saying. And I do.

Then bring right leg forward into lunge. Then today’s standing sequence, a vinyasa within a vinyasa: warrior two, extended side angle, reverse extended side angle, triangle, reverse triangle, ardha chandrasana, warrior one, warrior three. Nice standing vinyasa (with room for improvement in the sequencing, I notice), and I am aware of all the different stretches each pose brings where spine meets pelvis meets thighs.

I am pleased with my balance in ardha chandrasana, but I need to put my extended arms on the top of a stool to hold warrior three. There’s always an edge. Today, and probably for a few weeks (or months, who knows?), that’s mine — balancing in warrior three.

Then back to lunge, uttanasana (notice how much deeper my fold is), extending spine, and reverse swan dive up, arms circling back down into anjali mudra.

Repeat on other side.

I follow with pigeon, a deep twist (thrilling as my shoulders reached the floor), happy baby, and rock to standing.

I am in my body, ready for today, for ecstatic dance, for community, for work, for learning prenatal massage.

Feeling very grateful for my friends, and for my teacher Gabrielle Roth, whose work I knew better than I knew her personally, who was so influential in opening my awareness up to new movements, rhythms, and energies in life, who is in her own life now moving into stillness. She dedicated her life to healing the mind-body split. Amen to that.

Here’s my favorite Gabrielle quote:

After you jump, before you land is God.

I’m going to light a candle and open myself up to God.