Trapezius Muscle Trigger Point

The trapezius muscle covers much of the upper back. It is divided into three parts, upper, middle, and lower.

Though the trapezius causes pain in the neck, upper back, and shoulder, it is also a major contributor to headaches, jaw pain. If you have frequent headaches the trapezius should be checked for trigger points (TrPs).

Contents of Article

Trigger Point Symptoms 

Muscle Location

Trigger Points Cause

Trigger Point Treatment

Trigger Point Prevention

Interesting Facts 

Clinical Diagnoses

Muscles With Similar Pain Patterns


What pain and symptoms are associated with the trapezius muscle?

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 as well as achiness and stiffness in the upper back.

Known as a major 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 have a tendency for headaches in at the bottom of the skull or in the area of the temple, 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.

  • 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
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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.

What movements does the trapezius muscle 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
  • Helps to tilt the head side to side
  • Helps to turn head side to side

For detailed anatomy information:  Trapezius Anatomy


What Causes Trigger Points In the Trapezius

The most common cause of trapezius trigger points is stress. When you are stressed the muscles in the neck, shoulders, and upper body all tense which contributes 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 it is important to have 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 have a tendency to slouch at the shoulders 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.

  • 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:
Posture correctorIf you have rounded shoulder posture, forward head posture, or have a habit of slouching, correcting your posture will reduce your muscle pain. The HailiCare Posture Corrector fully supports the back and abdominal area while gently pulling your shoulders back which helps retrain muscle memory to maintain proper posture. You will immediately notice a reduction of pain and tension. Start slowly, wearing the brace only 20-30 minutes a day slowly increasing the time you wear it. For best results, you must also do a strength and stretching program targeting upper body muscles.

TWD Recommends:

I use and often recommend the Neck King Massage Tool For Neck and Back Pain 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 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 helped me as well as many of my clients relieve headaches, sore stiff necks and upper back strain.

Trapezius Trigger Point Treatment

The trapezius is easily self-treated. To learn how to locate and self-treat the muscle I recommend The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. The workbook explains trigger points and provides diagrams that help you locate as well as diagrams as to how to 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 can also be used on many other areas of the body.

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

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

How To Prevent 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 it is important to have a chair with armrests because the support of the elbows takes the workload off the traps. If you are doing activities in which supporting the elbows is not an option take breaks and stretch out the hands, wrists, arms shoulders, neck, and the upper back.

Women who have large heavy breasts your bra fit is important. Find a bra that not only supports the breasts but provides support for the upper back.

People who have suffered a whiplash injury

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

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. Highly recommended for treatments and just to relax!

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. The cradle can also be used for treatment on other areas including the low back and hip area. Instructions are provided.

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

Clinical diagnoses to which the trapezius muscle symptoms may contribute:

  • Tension headaches
  • Eyestrain
  • Whiplash
  • 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 radiculopathy
  • T1 T2 T3 T4 radiculopathy
  • Concussion and Post Concussion Syndrome

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

Satellite trigger points associated with the trapezius muscle:

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

Other Muscles With Similar Pain Patterns

Levator Scapulae

Rhomboid Muscles

Splenius Cervicis

Donna Martin

Massage Therapist Owner: Twelve years of experience working with clients with chronic pain, post injury pain, and post surgery pain. Muscle dysfunction is often overlooked but can hold the key to many pain conditions.

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