Trapezius muscle pain causes, symptoms, and treatment

Trapezius muscle

Pain can be a very debilitating, uncomfortable and physically impairing state. This unpleasant sensation can either be a localized discomfort or a generalized agony. Whatever it may be, no one wants to experience it willingly as it can lead to a reduced functionality.

With our modern lifestyles and monotonous routines, there have been many unhealthy lifestyle changes which we have made; some by choice or some by circumstance. All of these changes have led to medical problems being created from time to time, sometimes becoming a financial burden.

The most common kind of pain being experienced by people all over the world is muscular pain and that could be because most occupations these days offer too much monotony which weakens one or the other muscle. One of such pain conditions is Trapezius muscle pain which is becoming an increasingly problematic health issue which warrants discussion.

So today, we are going to do exactly as mentioned. We will be discussing the possible causes of Trapezius muscle pain and the symptoms and treatment for it too.

What is the Trapezius Muscle?

Before delving into the subject of what trapezius pain is and how to treat it, it is very essential that one understands about the structure and location of the Trapezius muscle.

The Trapezius muscle is a large, flat muscle which covers most of the upper back and the posterior of the neck. It is regarded as one of the major muscles of the back and is responsible for making the shoulder blade move and performs movements like rotation as well as an extension of the neck whenever you look upwards. It is called the ‘shrug muscle’ as the act of shoulder shrugging is accomplished by making use of this muscle.

As it is obvious, being a large muscle, it has an increased oxygen and energy consumption and has to be maintained with proper metabolic fuels. Being an enlarged muscle could be the possible contributor to trapezius pain with minimal stress. The Trapezius muscle is divisible into upper, middle and lower parts and the causality of pain can be exclusive to the location; with some causes affecting the upper parts, while others affecting the lower and middle parts.[1]

Causes of Trapezius muscle pain

Like any other muscular pain, trapezius muscle pain can be quite irritating and annoying and can be due to a variety of different causes.

Trauma

Trauma can be number one on the list of causes which lead to trapezius muscle pain. Whenever somebody undergoes trauma which affects the area of the trapezius, the tender and active points in the muscle get activated causing pain and discomfort. Such a scenario is most commonly seen with motor vehicle accidents where the trapezius muscle is stretched too quickly and too harshly firstly backward and then forwards leading to the activation of pressure points which hurt and lead to soreness and pain. Such an injury is medically called a ‘whiplash’ and is particularly seen quite commonly in almost every individual surviving a motor vehicle accident.

Tight straps

The trapezius muscles are responsible for bearing the weight whenever you put a backpack on. Being placed in such a strategic position, most of the stress from straps is delivered to the upper and middle trapezius muscle portions making them susceptible to straining and causing pain and discomfort. The similar is true for women who have rather heavy and bulky breasts. The bra straps can get quite tight due to the weight of the breasts putting pressure on the trapezius muscle and cause the production and sensation of pain.

Bad posture

The neck is stabilized with two trapezius muscles on either side of the body and an adequate posture keeps them in place preventing any straining. Keeping your neck tilted to one side, such as watching the television sideways constantly for hours can cause the muscle to be shortened for a longer period of time making it cramped and sore and hence leading to displeasing pain. 

Monotonous activities

Our muscles are designed to work in a dynamic fashion and whenever we subject them to consistent, monotonous movements for long periods of time, it causes them to sore and hurt as the consistency negates with their dynamic nature. Working on a computer set with no armrest or playing musical instruments like the violin or the piano can cause the middle portion of the trapezius to be affected. All such activities involve keeping your arms elevated in front of yourself without much support causing the muscles to work extensively in an attempt to stabilize the neck and back ultimately leading to cramps and pain.

This is more commonly known as Repetitive Stress Injury. The IDEA health and fitness association argued that if you subject the trapezius muscle to a single activity over and over again, it can cause the muscle to develop painful and tight knots leading to pain. 

Mental stress

The University of Gothenburg in 2010 carried out a research which proposed that women tend to suffer from neck pain much more frequently than men due to their lives being stressful than men in comparison. It has not been proven why but has been observed widely that whenever people suffer from mental stress, tension, and anxiety, the trapezius is the first muscle to experience painful sensations. The muscle can face the development of trigger spots which are tender and sore and can be aggravated as stress increases.

Symptoms of trapezius muscle pain

Trapezius muscle pain can manifest in a variety of ways and we have put together the most common symptoms associated with this painful and uncomfortable condition. Every individual is different and can suffer either from one or a variety of these symptoms.

  • Swelling of the neck and shoulder area
  • A warm sensation over the neck
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Muscle spasms around the neck
  • Arm weakness
  • A sensation of tingling and numbness
  • Shoulder and neck movement painful and limited
  • Reduced range of motion of the shoulder
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Radiating headaches
  • Shoulder stiffness
  • Posterior headaches.

Treatment of Trapezius muscle pain

Now that we have talked extensively about the causes and symptoms of trapezius muscle pain, it’s time to explore some of the possible treatment modalities which can be employed to take care of this debilitating condition.

Listed below are multiple effective ways which can be used to relieve the pain and lead to a better quality of life.

Cold compresses

The trapezius muscle area generates pain because it gets inflamed. To reduce the inflammation cold compresses can be applied to the affected area every two to four hours. Just get an ice pack and gently place it on the affected area for a quick relief. However, if you do not have an ice pack, then ice cubes in a towel or a bag of frozen peas, would do just fine. Each time you place the ice pack, leave it there for fifteen to twenty minutes and within a week your muscle will be as good as new.

Heating

The second option for reducing inflammation of the trapezius muscle is heating therapy. The cramped, strained and painful muscle can be eased with this convenient and economical way. There are various ways to deliver heat to the affected area. It can be done either with a heat pack or running warm to hot water on the muscle. If you’re all out of those then simply fill an old woolen sock or glove with some kind of grain like rice and gently provide warm compresses to the trapezius muscle.

Resting the muscle

This is a pretty obvious way to heal the hurting muscle. Removing your muscle away from monotonous and consistently strenuous physical activity gives it time to rest and heal. It replenishes the metabolic fuels in it and rids it of toxic inflammatory materials causing the pain and discomfort to be eliminated.

Bath salts

This might seem obnoxious and surprising, but Epsom salt can help you get rid of the pain. The high magnesium content of Epsom helps to relax and unwind the strained muscle causing it to be free of pain in no time. All you have to do is put a generous amount of Epsom salt in your bath and then just sit and let your muscle be soaked so that it can absorb the magnesium which will help relieve the soreness and discomfort.

Maintaining adequate posture

A very big contributor to healing that aching trapezius would be posture modification. Sitting hunched back on your work desk for hours strains the muscle. What you can do is make sure you sit straight while working and if most of your work requires operating a computer then an armrest is absolutely necessary. Such small modifications will help you get relieved from the pain and will prevent it from coming back as well. Similarly, activities which involve your neck to be positioned to one side, like watching the television sideways should also be eliminated.

Medications

These should definitely not be your first option as dependence can be created. However, if you can find no better alternative, then there are a variety of pain medications like Acetaminophen and NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen which can be purchased over the counter. They provide quick and complete relief from the pain but unfortunately, that relief is short-lived and stays only if you keep medicating regularly. If you feel like you need some even stronger painkillers then it’s better to consult a physician and then proceed.

Massage therapy

This can be a pretty effective method too. Massages improve blood circulation and help a great deal to get rid of nasty trapezius pain. The tender and active massage points get pressured and the knots and cramps are relieved. There can be various massage techniques which can be used to apply gentle pressure to the tender points.

Lying down: This is the easiest of all and can be done by simply lying on the side of the affected trapezius muscle. The spine has to be aligned with the neck along with stabilizing the neck with a pillow. Kneading the muscle while lying down also helps reduce soreness.

Tennis ball: All you need to do this is a firm tennis ball and a hard surface like the floor. It involves placing the tennis ball between the affected side of the neck and the floor and then moving back and forth focusing on the painful area. The pressure generated by doing so clears the muscle cramps and knots.

Electronic massager: If you want to go a step further and get all fancy, then getting a portable electronic massager is the way to go about. This, however, a bit pricey, could be highly convenient and can be used either while sitting or lying down. It serves the exact same purpose of conventional massages and kneads out all tender points.

Read our detailed guide on neck massage techniques here.

Exercise

Exercising conditions the muscles, making them strong and sturdy. The same is true for the Trapezius muscle and exercising them relieves pain and makes them stronger. You can try various types of exercises and can choose from the ones suggested below

Shrugging shoulders:  Shoulder shrugs are considered the most effective exercise for relieving trapezius muscle pain. All that needs to be done is trying to elevate your shoulders upwards towards your head and then holding it for some time. Doing this a couple of times a week rids the muscle of all knots.

Shoulder rotation: This can be done by standing straight in an open area with arms at an angle of 90 degrees from the body and then gently rotating your shoulders in a clockwise and then an anti-clockwise direction periodically.

Neck stretching: Neck stretches are perfect for getting rid of those painful and nasty knots in the trapezius muscle. Just stand straight with your arms by your side. Then gently lift one arm to the side and tilt the neck to the opposite direction causing the muscle to stretch and straighten.

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