"I keep stretching, foam rolling, massage gun-ing, ALL THE THINGS...and my upper traps are STILL tight. WHY!?"
I've been there. I remember sitting in class during PT school, stretching my upper traps CONSTANTLY. I was regularly applying pressure to a "knot" I felt, was spending money on massages every week, and still never felt permanent relief. In fact, it got worse.
It was a vicious cycle of stretch, slight improvement, back to the same discomfort minutes later—massage, temporary relief, discomfort again the next day. Any relief was always fleeting.
I've learned several things that have finally provided lasting changes in my upper trap/neck pain. Many of these things may be the opposite of what you've learned, but try to keep an open mind! My suggestion is to give them a go for a couple of weeks and see what happens. Because my guess is, you've also tried the stretching and massage and still haven't found relief. So what do you have to lose?...
I'm an anomaly of a yoga instructor and even physical therapist for one primary reason: I don't passively stretch, nor do I recommend my clients passively stretch. I don't stretch for several reasons, but mainly because I don't think it resolves tightness.
This topic is extremely controversial, and I recently wrote a literature review on stretching, but I wanted to explain my philosophy and why I don't prioritize stretching.
I want to preface by saying there could be some instances in physical therapy or rehab where stretching is necessary. In this article, I will speak to the exercise enthusiast who is stretching to solve for tightness after their workouts, or intermittently throughout their day.
If you like what you're about to read, I have two resources to help you.
The first is a neck/shoulder stability routine. This is to help you improve tightness or dysfunction in your neck/shoulders without ANY stretching.