Neck And Upper Trap Pain? Try This Easy Ball Release

Written by Lauren Walker, Athletic Therapist in Penticton and blogger at

I think it is safe to say, we have all been there with ongoing neck pain that seems to never go away. Along with correcting muscle imbalances in your body, using a ball to release your upper trap and neck muscles can be beneficial and give you the neck relief you need.

An Anatomy Lesson:

First things first, what are the upper fibres of the trapezius? This is the muscle you can see connecting from the neck into the top of the shoulder. It generally becomes a problem when it becomes tight and starts to pull at its origin and insertion. This can cause tension headaches and pain in the shoulder as well.

The traps themselves actually comprise of upper, mid and lower fibers. For the sake of this blog post I will be focusing today on just the upper fibers.

Origin: 1 inch behind the mastoid process, superior nuchal line, ligamentum nuchae, SP of C7, external occipital protuberance.
Insertion: Posterior boarder of the lateral 1/3 of the clavicle and the acromion process of the scapula.
Layman’s terms: It starts in the head and neck and ends in the same side shoulder.

How to release your neck with a ball:

This discomfort can be corrected with muscle imbalance corrections, by decreasing the body’s dependency on the upper trap engaging and strengthening the midback muscles instead. However, if you are looking for a way to massage this muscle yourself, this can be done easily with a ball and the corner of a wall!

  1. Grab a tennis ball or a lacrosse ball. A tennis ball is a lot softer and will not dig as deep, so it may be more comfortable for some. My personal favourite is using a lacrosse ball as I find it has better grip and can dig deeper into the tissue.
  2. Place the ball onto the top of your shoulder over the upper trap muscle.
  3. Step forward with one leg and lunge into the corner of a wall. DO NOT lean over with your back as this can put strain on your lower back.
  4. Comfortably push your body weight against the wall and roll the ball around until you find a tender spot, this is called a trigger point.
  5. You can hold onto that point and breathe it out until the pain goes from a 6-7/10 down to a 3-4/10 (1 being no pain and 10 being the worst you have ever felt). Or you can actively side bend your head away from the wall to give that muscle and active release.

If you have lower back pain, try this way of releasing instead:

  1. Just as above, place the ball on the top of your shoulder.
  2. Now you will lay on the ground and place yourself beside a corner of a wall, and have the ball between you and the wall.
  3. Apply your desired body weight pressure against the ball and breathe it out as mentioned above or side bend your head way from the wall.

Below is a video from my Instagram account @lewslife_, which shows you how to do both of the trap ball releases (be sure to turn up the volume as I’m verbally describing what to do as well as showing how to do it). Just click the link below to watch the video!

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