upper trapezius strain
I experience upper trap and neck tightness when I kayak or drive a car for longer than 4 hours. Periodic rest breaks do not help much. I have tried a regular stretching and strengthening routine for more than a year now and noticed little change. Any suggestions?
I would recommend contacting your physician or physical therapist.
I'd see your physician first just to rule out any other factors (such as pinched nerves) and to see if there are any existing contraindications to doing SMR (such as joint problems like arthritis).
Assuming that you are cleared for all that and you are told that it's simply caused by muscle imbalance, then you should be good to go for applying SMR treatments. In the case of muscle imbalance, where one set of muscles are overactive and the opposing sets are underactive, you will experience tightness in the area. The sensation of tightness can be caused by the feeling of the muscle contracting, or from the feeling of the muscle being stretched out (in which case, the muscle tries its best to protect itself by applying tension to prevent being stretched out too far).
In either situation, simply stretching and strengthening isn't sufficient to remedy the problem. Sometimes, you end up stretching the muscle perceived to be "tight," but is actually stretched out; as a result, you further weaken the muscle (causing further instability in the area). Other times, you strengthen the muscle that is perceived to be "weak," but is actually a tight muscle; as a result, you end up fatiguing the muscle further.
You must have someone assess your movement in the area and around it first to determine the likely cause of the tightness. Once you find out which muscles are the likely cause of overactivity, you will then be given some SMR exercises (usually in the form of foam rolling, trigger point rolling with a ball or some other massage device) to do. This will cause the overactive muscles to cease its activities. Only then will it be possible to do any kind of stretching to the area.
This is akin to trying to stretch out an elastic band that has a knot tied into it. Stretching the band won't undo the knot, it will only make it tighter (and eventually break the band due to the limitation that the band can stretch out). However, if you undo the knot, then the band can stretch out further.
Once a stretching program has been given to you, then next step is to reactivate and strengthen the weakened muscles. The last step is to reintegrate functional movements back into the area to retrain the firing patterns of the muscles.
I really like the answer given by Calvin. It appears to be a matter of how you position your body when driving and kayaking. While I am not an expert at kayaking, both activities seem to invite the upper traps to get involved. Those muscles are already easily incited at best of times, and I would venture that faulty movement patterns over time have caused this chronic problem.
I would also predict that you are likely to get the upper traps involved in other tasks of daily life such as using a computer.
You will need an assessment from somebody who can look at you to help you determine the best sequence to relieve the pain. Be prepared for a lengthy process. Correcting faulty movement is rather difficult because you have to re-program old habits, and those are notoriously tricky to change.
I wish you good luck and hope that you will find a path out of pain.
One of the best self help would be self- myofascial release foam roller..works wonders for knots in area that is tight. Another would be a tennis ball, you would put the ball in area that mostly needs it. You can do this on the floor, with a towel placed under your head. Or you can try against the wall. Best results would be lying in suspine position. If you don't feel better after a few days I would make appointment with your physician. Hope this helps.
Have you paid attention to the form you use while doing these activities? Do you know if you are shrugging your shoulders? More than four hours is a long time to be doing anything.
I also like Calvin Yeong's detailed description.
You will most likely get the best results by getting checked out by a doctor who can point you in the direction of a body and movement assessment.
Also, have you looked into taking kayaking lessons for the proper stroke form? What works for me is to paddle by twisting the torso left and right so the front middle of the life preserver moves. Do not paddle with mostly the arms. While paddling, push with one hand while pulling with the other.
Do you sit far from the steering wheel while driving? How is your form behind the wheel? This is not your fault, as seats are not made with the best human function in mind. Maybe you could have someone take a picture and/or film of you while doing these activities.
I hope this helps you and you get results soon.
You said you get the pain when do perform certain activities for over four hours.
Perhaps you should limit the time that you perform the activity to avoid the discomfort.
Best to you.