The trapezius muscle covers much of the upper back and has three parts, upper, middle, and lower.

The trapezius causes pain in the neck, upper back, and shoulder.  It is also a significant contributor to headaches and jaw pain. If you have frequent headaches,  shoulder pain, or an aching tight upper back, you should check the trapezius for trigger points (TrPs).

Contents of Article

    Where Is The Trapezius Muscle?

    Trapezius Anatomy Showing Trigger Points

    The trapezius covers a large portion 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.

    What Movements Does The Trapezius Control?

    • Pulls the shoulders back and the shoulder blades toward the spine
    • Raises and lowers shoulders – shrugging your shoulders
    • Lifts and lowers the arms to the front of the body
    • Straightening and bending neck back
    • It helps to tilt the head side to side
    • Helps to turn head side to side

     

    See the Trapezius Anatomy page for detailed muscle anatomy information, including origin, insertion, and agonist and antagonist for each muscle action.

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    Trapezius Muscle Trigger Points Symptoms:

    Trapezius Referred Pain Pattern

    A large muscle that covers most of the upper back, the trapezius contributes to pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulder, pain around the inner edge of the shoulder blade, and aching and stiffness in the upper back.

    Mostly known as a contributor to stiff necks, one symptom many people do not connect to the trapezius is headaches. Trigger points (TrPs) in the muscle can be a source of jaw pain, pain behind the eye, headaches that seemingly start behind the eye and travel down the side of the head to behind the ear. If you tend to have headaches at the bottom of the skull or in the temple area, it may be TrPs in the trapezius.

    Because the trapezius moves the shoulder blade, the trigger points that cause neck and shoulder pain can occasionally cause tingling, numbing, or pain when you raise your arms.

    The symptoms:

    • Stiff neck
    • Headaches at the base of the skull
    • Headache in the temple area
    • Pain behind one eye
    • Pain in the jaw that travels down into the neck and over behind the ear
    • Tension headache
    • Contributes to dizziness
    • Ache or burning sensation in the middle of the back
    • Pain or tingling during raising or lowering the arms
    • Women with large, heavy breasts often develop trigger points in the upper back muscles

    Sombra Warm Therapy Gel is recommended for relaxing muscles and relieving pain. It warms without the burning heat of other gels. An excellent choice for pain caused by trigger points, muscle/joint over-use and stiffness, and arthritis. (Not sold in stores)

    Biofreeze Professional Gel is recommended by medical professionals and trainers for the pain and symptoms of muscle strains. It provides excellent pain relief and may help reduce inflammation caused by a strain.

    What Causes Trapezius Trigger Points To Develop?

    The most common cause of trapezius trigger points is stress. When you feel stressed, the muscles in the neck, shoulders, and upper body all tense and tighten, contributing to trigger point development.

    People who have jobs that require holding the arm out in front of the body will develop TrPs in the muscle. If you work at a desk, you need a chair with armrests that support the elbows. Resting your arms on the desktop without support for the elbows is very stressful for the trapezius. Jobs and activities that require holding the arms overhead also overwork the muscle.

    If you tend to slouch and roll your shoulders forward or have a habit of holding your head down to look at your phone, you will have pain in the neck and upper back. Rounded shoulder posture and forward head posture overwork and overstretch the muscle.

    Other causes:

    • 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
    • Holding a phone to your ear with your shoulder
    • Carrying a heavy purse or backpack on one shoulder
    • Large breasts

    TWD Recommends

    The Huggaroo Neck Wrap is a large wrap that will treat neck, upper shoulder, and upper back muscle pain. It can be used cold for injury and swelling or warmed for deep penetrating moist heat. It is highly recommended for treatments and to relax!

    How To Avoid Development of Trigger Points In The Trapezius

    • The most preventative measure that you can take to avoid trigger points in the trapezius is to manage your stress levels. When you are stressed, be conscious of your shoulders and neck area. Do shoulder and neck rolls and make an effort not to keep your shoulders raised, which is an unconscious action we do when stressed.
    • When you work and do activities with your arms extended out in front of the body for long hours, you will have problems with the trap muscle.
    • People who work at a desk, drive for extended amounts of time or play and practice the piano for hours are particularly vulnerable. If you work at a desk, you need a chair with armrests to support the elbows and take the workload off the traps. If you are doing activities that giving the elbows support is not an option, take breaks and stretch out the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, and upper back.
    • For women who have large and heavy breasts, your bra fit is essential. Find a bra that not only supports the breasts but provides support for the upper back.

    If you have suffered a whiplash injury

    Whiplash can affect all the muscles of the neck, shoulders, chest, and upper back. If you have ever had whiplash, you need to check all these muscles, including the trapezius, for trigger points. Pain and symptoms may return months and even years after the initial injury.

    TWD Recommends

    The Craniocradle was developed to treat headaches and stiff necks. The cradle applies pressure to the muscles while providing gentle traction to the neck. Use for 5-10 minutes and feel a reduction in pain and stress. You can also use the cradle for treatment on other areas, including the low back and hip area. Instructions for use are provided with the cradle.

    If you have rounded shoulder, forward head posture, or a habit of slouching, correcting your posture will reduce muscle pain. The Truweo Posture Corrector is adjustable and comfortable. It gently pulls your shoulders back, which helps retrain muscle memory to maintain proper posture. Many people notice an immediate reduction of pain and tension. Start slowly, wearing the brace for short periods throughout the day, slowly increasing the time-worn.

    Trapezius Trigger Point Treatment

    The trapezius is easily self-treated. To learn how to locate and self-treat trigger points, I recommend The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. The workbook explains trigger points and provides diagrams that help you find the trigger points and treat the muscle. The book also guides you to other muscles that may also need treatment along with the trapezius.

    To use the treatment methods in the workbook, you will also need a Thera Cane Massage Tool. The cane allows you to reach the back of the neck and upper back easily. It is useful for treating many other areas of the body.

    Your other option is to find a massage therapist, physical therapist, or chiropractor with training in trigger point therapy. A trained professional can show you how to find and treat the specific trigger points in the muscle.

    For optimal outcomes and reduction in pain, you will need to treat each trigger point several times throughout the day. Each treatment should last only 1-2 minutes.

    TWD Recommends

    Doctors and physical therapists often recommend TENS to relax muscles and ease the pain. The Belifu TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator is highly recommended and a great choice for treating shoulder, arm, and upper back pain.

    How Long Before I Feel A Reduction In Pain?

    Relatively new trigger points usually deactivate quickly after a few days of consistent treatment. If they have affected the muscle for months or even years, it may take several weeks to deactivate entirely. The good news is that you notice a reduction in pain and stiffness after each treatment.

    Interesting facts:

    • 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.
    • It supports the majority of the weight of the shoulders.
    • It holds the shoulder blade in place, allowing for fine motor skills of the arms and hands.

    Trapezius muscle pain and symptoms can be similar to, contribute to, and be affected by these medical diagnoses:

    • Tension headaches
    • Eyestrain
    • Whiplash
    • Concussion
    • Stingers or burners
    • Sprain/Strain injury
    • Shoulder pointer
    • Shoulder separation
    • Glenohumeral separation
    • Adhesive capsulitis (Frozen shoulder)
    • Spasmodic torticollis (Wryneck)
    • Temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
    • Thoracic outlet syndrome
    • Spondylosis
    • Stenosis
    • C1 C2 C3 C4 C5 C6 C7 C8 T1 T2 T3 or T4 radiculopathy

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    Other muscles that should be considered and examined:

    Satellite trigger points associated with the trapezius muscles:

    If you find trigger points in the traps you will likely find trigger points in some of the muscles listed below:

    • Temporalis
    • Masseter
    • Splenius Cervicis
    • Semispinalis
    • Levator Scapulae
    • Rhomboids
    • Pectoralis Major
    • Pectoralis Minor
    • Latissimus Dorsi
    • Supraspinatus

    I often recommend the Neck King Massage Tool For Neck and Back to my clients who suffer from headaches, migraines, and stiff necks. 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 device is too hard to use comfortably. Folding a hand towel and laying it over the Neck King will help ease the discomfort. It works exceptionally well on the muscles at the base of the skull. This tool has helped me and many of my clients relieve headaches, sore, stiff necks, and upper back strain.

    Muscles with similar pain patterns:

    Levator Scapulae
    Splenius Cervicis Muscle
    Rhomboid Muscles