+Donna Martin
Dec 262012

What pain and symptoms are associated with the trapezius muscle?

Areas of pain to which the Trapezius muscle contributes.

Headaches, stiff neck, eye and jaw pain as well as aching and tingling in the back and arms may indicate trapezius muscle dysfunction.

  • Headache in the temple area
  • Pain in the jaw that travels down into the neck and over behind the ear
  • Pain behind one eye
  • Tension headache
  • Contributes to dizziness
  • Pain at the base of the skull
  • Stiff neck
  • Ache or burning sensation in the middle of the back
  • Pain or tingling during raising or lowering the arms

Where is the trapezius muscle located?

The trapezius covers a large portion of the back of the neck, back of the shoulder and upper to mid back. It connects the skull, neck vertebra, upper and mid back vertebra to the shoulder blade and joint of the shoulder.

What movements does the trapezius muscle control?

  • Raises and lowers shoulders – shrugging your shoulders
  • Lifts and lowers the arms
  • Tilting head side to side
  • Turning head side to side
  • Straightening and bending neck back

Activities that cause  pain and symptoms in the trapezius:

Trapezius Muscle

You use the trapezius muscle to raise and lower your shoulders,
lift and lower your arms, tilt your head side to side, turn your head side to side, and straighten your neck.

  • Whiplash
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Working with your arms out in front of you (computer, playing the piano, driving)
  • Keeping your shoulders rolled forward or pulled up
  • Carrying a heavy purse or back pack on one shoulder
  • Large breasts

Interesting facts about the Trapezius:

The trapezius is arguably the most massaged muscle on the human body. When a friend massages your neck and shoulders it is the trapezius muscle that they are usually massaging.

Clinical diagnoses to which this muscle symptoms may contribute:

Tension headaches, Eye strain, Acceleration/Deceleration injury (whiplash), Stingers or burners, Sprain/Strain injury, Shoulder pointer, Adhesive capsulitis (Frozen shoulder),Spasmodic torticollis (Wryneck syndrome), Temporomandibular disorder, Thoracic outlet syndrome, Bursitis, Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Osteoporosis

Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the trapezius:

Help with Trapezius Muscle Pain

Sombra Warm Therapy Gel provides pain relief.

Warm Therapy Gel For Trapezius Muscle Related Pain

Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel is a pain relieving gel that I use both personally and professionally in my massage therapy practice. Unlike other over the counter heating creams, it provides warmth without burning heat.  Applying Sombra to the back of the neck, along the shoulders and upper back going down along the spine to the mid-back  can help reduce pain and tightness caused by the trapezius  muscle. I recommend Sombra for chronic pain and pain from arthritis.

Cold Therapy Gel For Trapezius Injury and Pain

Biofreeze is recommended for recent muscle injury

Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel is an excellent pain relieving gel that I use on clients who have sudden onset muscle pain or recent injuries.  Biofreeze Cold Therapy gel works  like ice  and does not promote swelling. A recent study showed that Biofreeze decreased pain 2 times more than ice and the pain relief lasts 9 – 10 longer. If  your pain is from a recent injury such as whiplash or strain from lifting and / or carrying heavy objects,  I would recommend Biofreeze.

Recommended Cold and Heat Wrap for Neck and Shoulders


Elasto-Gel Cervical Collar can be used for heat or cold therapy to the neck, upper shoulder area. This wrap works with trapezius muscle induced head and neck pain because it comes up to the base of the skull and covers the back of the neck.  Use cold therapy for new and recent injury or sudden onset pain. Use  heat therapy for injuries over a week old and chronic pain from old injury and tight muscles. I recommend this because it conforms to the contours of your body and is well made to last for years.


SofTouch Large Hot Cold Pack is a large pack that can be used for hot or cold treatment. The pack is large enough to cover the trapezius muscle from the neck to the middle back. To treat the trapezius, pull the pack up to the base of the skull and let it lie on the upper shoulders and back.

The inside of the pack contains a clay like substance that remains soft and pliable so you can mold the pack to your body. The outside of the pack is wrapped with soft suede like material that does not shock the skin when touched. My clients love this pack and it is now the only large size hot and cold pack that I use in my massage therapy practice.

Tools and Information For Self  Treatment of Trapezius Muscle


I use and often recommend the Neck King Massage Tool For Neck and Back to my clients.  The Neck King works on trigger points and pressure points to help relieve muscle tension and pain. The secret to using the Neck King is to follow the directions carefully and to slowly build up the time spent using the tool. For many first time users the tool is too hard to use comfortably. Folding a hand towel and laying it over the Neck King will help ease the discomfort.  This tool has help me as well as many of my clients relieve headaches, sore stiff necks and upper back strain.

Self Treatment for Trapezius Muscle Pain

The Trigger Point Workbook can help you resolve muscle pain throughout your body.

When I recommend trigger point tools to my clients I always recommend that they also purchase Claire Davies  The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief.Mr. Davies explain the trigger point phenomenon and muscle pain in everyday language.  But what makes this book worth its weight in gold are the individual muscle trigger point treatments that Davies has compiled. His diagrams and step by step instructions help you locate which muscles are contributing to your pain,  how to find the trigger point, and stretching and strengthening exercises for each muscle. This book is a must have for anyone interested in finding the cause and treating muscle pain.


The Theracane Massager is a self treatment massage tool for use on those hard to reach areas on the neck, shoulders, back, hips and legs. If you are considering buying the book The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, you will need to buy the Theracane to use the some of  treatment methods for the back detailed in the book.

Anatomy Study: Origin, Insertion, Action and Innervation of the Trapezius Muscle

Upper part: External occipital proturberance, medial third of the superior nuchal line, the ligamentum nuchae,  and the spinous process of C7
Medial Part: Spinous processes of T1 to T5.
Lower Part: Spinous processes of T6 to T12
Upper Part: Lateral third of the clavicle and the medial aspect of the acromion process of the scapula
Middle Part: Medial edge of the superior surface of the acromion process of the scapula and the superior edge of the scapular spine.
Lower Part: Tubercles of the apex of the scapular spine
Upper Part: Upward rotation of the scapula, elevation of the scapula
Middle Part:
Retraction of the scapula
Lower Part:
Upper rotation of the scapula, depression of the scapula
Innervation: Spinal Accessory Cranial XI , Ventral Rami C2-C4

Primary Actions: Upper Fibers

1. Upward rotation of the scapula

  • Agonists: Serratus Anterior (lower fibers), Trapezius (lower fibers)
  • Antagonists: Levator Scapulae, Serratus Anterior (upper fibers), Rhomboids Major and Minor, Pectoralis Minor

Stabilizer: Trapezius (lower fibers)

2. Elevation of scapula

  • Angonists: Levator Scapulae
  • Antagonists:Serratus Anterior (lower fibers), Trapezius (lower fibers), Pectoralis Minor

Secondary Actions:

1. Assists with elevation of the cervical spine (distal attachment fixed, acting bilaterally)

  • Agonists: Sternocleidomastoid, Rectus Capitis Posterior Major and  Minor, Obliquus Capitis Superior, Splenius Cervicis, Splenius Capitis, Ilocostalis Cervicis, Longissimus Cervicis, Longissimus Capitis, Spinalis Cervicis, Spinalis Capitis, Semispinalis Cervicis, Semispinalis Capitis
  • Antagonists: Longus Colli, Longus Capitis, Scalenus Anterior, Sternocleidomastoid

2. Assists with lateral flexion of the cervical spine (distal attachment fixed, acting unilaterally)

  • Agonists: Longus Colli, Rectus Capitis Lateralis, Scalenus Anterior,  Scalenus Medius, Scalenus Posterior, Sternocleidomastoid,  Obliquus Capitis Superior, Splenius Cervicis, Splenius Capitis, Iliocostalis Cervicis, Longissimus Capitis
  • Antagonists: The same muscles as above but on the contralateral side

3. Assists with contralateral rotation of the head and cervical spine when acting unilaterally

  • Agonists: Semispinalis Capitis, Sternocleidomastoid
  • Antagonists: Semispinalis Capitis, Sternocleidomastoid on the opposite side of the neck.

Primary Actions: Middle Fibers

1. Retraction of scapula

  • Agonists: Rhomboid Major and Minor
  • Antagonists: Serratus Anterior, Pectoralis Minor

Primary Actions: Lower  Fibers

1. Upward rotation of the scapula

  • Agonists: Trapezius (upper fibers) Serratus Anterior (lower fibers)
  • Antagonists: Serratus Anterior (upper fibers), Rhomboid Major and Minor, Levator Scapulae

Stabilizer: Trapezius (middle fibers)

2. Depression of the scapula

  • Agonists: Serratus Anterior (lower fibers), Pectoralis Minor
  • Antagonists: Trapezius (upper fibers), Levator Scapulae

Satellite Trigger Points: Temporalis, Masseter, Splenius Cervis, Semispinalis, Levator Scapulae, Rhomboids, Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor, Latissimus Dorsi, Supraspinatus

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