Why Your Neck Tension Won’t Go Away

Isn’t it interesting how we know so many of our health indicators like blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, resting heart rate, etc, but when it comes to knowing how our joints should move, we don’t have a number to measure that.  We just simply say we’re not flexible or this area feels tight.


Do your shoulders and neck always feel tight?  Maybe you chalk that up to the weight of the world resting on our shoulders.  But maybe there is another reason why your neck tension won’t go away.


Your upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles are often overactive.  Meaning they are perpetually hyped up even while at rest.  Your brain is keeping them “on” because another muscle or muscles are not doing their job.

Image from bowhunting.net

Image from bowhunting.net


Not to name names, but the muscles not doing their job are typically the mid-trapezius, lower-trapezius, and/or serratus anterior.


When I’m looking at posture and joint movement, one of the areas I assess is the scapulothoracic joint.  That’s a fancy way to say that I look to see how the shoulder blade is moving against the rib cage.

Have a look at her shoulders in this resting posture example.  Notice how the left side is elevated?  That’s overactive upper trapezius right there!  You can feel neck tension if your shoulders are not level.



So let’s say you stretch and get massages and always feel the same shoulder/neck tension.  Maybe you even have some trigger points in your shoulders that never go away.  This could be an indication that your lazy muscles need to be activated.  A balance must be created between the overactive and underactive muscles for the neck tension to finally release.

What you’re really doing is training the brain.  Very low intensity strength training for the mid-trap and low-trap in combination with upper trap/levator release tells the brain that muscles are in harmony with each other.


If you’re needing some relief from chronic neck tension, first release the tense muscle with a professional or self massage, then do an activation exercise.

Try this lower-trap activation exercise:

Activation exercises are very low intensity.  Kind of like what you would do in physical therapy.  If you do too high intensity, the already overactive muscles kick in and don’t let the muscles who really need it do the work.  Your brain is always trying to find the path of least resistance.


Releasing the trigger points and activating the weak muscles should be done every day.  Spend 1-2 minutes with a tennis ball on your upper traps and follow with less than 10 reps of an activation exercise.  It takes less than 4 minutes.


The right corrective exercises will go a long way in helping restore muscle balance!

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  This is one scenario.  Please read Part 2 of this blog series for another scenario.

17 thoughts on “Why Your Neck Tension Won’t Go Away

    • Hey i had chronic pain on my right trapezious and after I got a cortisone shot i started to feel the same pain on my left side. It also started to feel more stiff than before. Would you happen to know why? Any input would be gladly appreciated.

      • It could be that your issue is side to side (right/left.) Right trap could be overworking for the left or vice versa. Or maybe the shot didn’t treat the underlying issue. What was the shot intended to treat?

  1. I Have had chronic shoulder problems for years. I broke my Proximal Humorous. and had 3 surgeries to fix it. I never realized such a simple neck shoulder exercise could be so helpful. Thanks for the post.

  2. Hi Sara – I’d love to hear more of your advice. I’ve been dealing with chronic neck and upper back pain for a couple years.

    • Thanks for reading! My best advice is to visit a NeuroKinetic Therapy specialist like me. There is a directory of certified specialists on the NKT website and you can find one near you. We test specific muscles and find which one is the culprit. Our motto is “test, don’t guess” because there are so many scenarios of how the muscles relate to each other.

  3. I have had issues with this for a while, and your article helped. How do I bring this into weight training? Should I be doing the corrective exercises throughout the day?

    • Initially, yes, do the corrective exercises twice per day. After a few weeks, it should stick and you can reduce to once a day. Regarding weight training — do the correctives as part of your warm up. And the underactive muscles may need a reduced intensity (depending on what you’re doing) until they’re functioning correctly.

  4. Hi Sara. So one day I woke up with a stiff neck and couldnt turn to the left. Well about a few days later still had stiffness and overturned my neck out of instinct, “daughter fell out of chair” and ya that hurt. Meanwhile another weak goes by still had some stiffness but went out surfing and again overturned my neck out of instinct,”thought I saw a shark”, anyways ya that hurt. So its been about 3 months now since the initial morning and my left side still aches after plenty of message and stretching. Is this a normal time table??? That it would have healed by now

    • There isn’t really a normal time table when it comes to pain. The dysfunction was probably there for a while and just not causing pain until recently. If the 2 release methods you’re using aren’t working after 3 months of consistent effort, it’s probably not the right solution to rid yourself of the pain. Stretching a weak muscle only makes it weaker. It can feel tight, but actually is weak. Read my “Part 2” of this blog series and find an NKT practitioner in your area using the directory here http://neurokinetictherapy.com/certified-practitioners

  5. I have had neck pain for a year now. I had Thyroid Cancer a year ago. I saw my surgeon, who gave me an x-ray, and they said it was mild arthritis. This is not mild if it has been killing me for a year now. I have tried physical therapy, and they just keep telling me to do my excercises and it will get better. Well, it has not! I am thinking about acupuncture or a chiropractor. Something other than doctors that know diddly squat about pain! Any suggestions?

    • Did you have surgery on your neck? It could be that the scar tissue is overactive. Try gently massaging the scar, then doing the neck pull-in exercise from the video in part 2 of this series.

  6. Hi sara, i have lived with a pain in my shoulder/trapezius/neck for a while now, i have trained with weigths for a year before this pain started. i trained like 5 days a week. and start to feel this pain in my right shoulder. but i just ignore it. I used to cut my hair self too with my right hand and i put my shoulder in a very bad position and put a lot of tension there too. Now i can’t train because i feel my shoulder very tight trought the day, it does hurt so much, but its most like a annoying feeling in my neck and back the shoulder ( trapezius ) and very tight in the side of the shoulder. i have been to fisioterapy, but feels they have not helped me with my problem, have you some idea for what this problem could be, and how i can make it better? when i see myself in the mirror, it look like the shoulder blade is more out than the left.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *