Most of us have experienced pain in our trapezius muscles at some point in our lives which can come as a surprise seeing as many people aren’t aware of what a trapezius muscle is. You don’t need to know what it is for it to hurt though, and if ever you’ve felt pain and tension at the sides of your neck and/or at the top of your back across the shoulder blades then you’ve had trapezius muscle pain. And chances are that at some point in your life you have because these are one of the muscle groups the you are most likely to tense up when you are stressed and that can easily become sore from overuse or from looking up.
The trapezius muscles are two large muscles that sit like plates on our backs and come up past our shoulders on either side of the neck. They are essentially the reverse of pectorals (the breast muscles) except larger and covering more space. These muscles can get pulled like any other muscle pain, but at the same time if you have incorrect posture, or if you tense your body up, or if you spend long craning your neck, then these are the muscles that are going to become sore. Here are just a few causes of trapezius muscle pain, as well as how you should go about rectifying this issue.
When you pull a muscle it’s because you have moved it too far and too suddenly and that has cause a big group the muscle fibers that make it up to tear. This then results in the connection that your trapezius muscles serve being severed so that they hurt and so that you experience considerably decreased range of movement. In very severe cases you will feel a gap in the muscle where it has become torn.
There is little you can do to rest the trapezius muscles due to their location and roll, but should this happen you should make a conscious effort to rest them at least as much as possible. Meanwhile you should rest sitting upright so that they are elevated above the heart, or at least stack pillows or cushions underneath them. This will help to prevent fluids from pooling and will reduce swelling.
Likewise use a painkilling tablet such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is a particularly desirable choice because it will also reduce swelling further. Using a cold pack can also help to reduce swelling while at the same time numbing local pain. When you use a cold pack make sure to have something between ice and your skin – do not put ice directly against your skin or you will damage the nerves. At the same time be careful not to use ice for longer than 20 minutes or you will end up again causing damage. Over time you should find that this pulled muscle begins to heal itself, but if it does not then you should see a doctor to rule out fracture or serious sprain and potentially to get surgery to help the wound.
Being stress can cause you to tense and tighten up your muscles and this is particularly true of the traps. If this is a problem then you just need to learn to relax and you should consider using stress management techniques such as controlled breathing or visualization. If you are very stressed and feeling tense around your shoulders, then you can improve this by getting a massage. The trapezius muscles are one of the areas they focus on most first and if you let them do this then they will be able to ease out some of the tension. If you have a willing partner then you could get them to give you more regular massages after you get home from work. If you have no willing candidate then you can massage the tops of your traps relatively easily, or you can invest in a device such as a massage chair or a stick/arm for massaging yourself. Another clever way to massage your own back is to lie on the floor on a tennis ball, and then to move it into the pressure points where it helps. A warm bath and particularly some muscle soak bubble bath can help too, as can ‘Deep Heat’. Heat in general will help to get the muscles to relax and can be very therapeutic.
Bad posture can cause all kinds of problems and among them is trapezius pain. This happens particularly when people stand or sit with their head somewhat forward. This can then cause tension in the trapezius muscles and also cause pain at the back of the neck where it bends.
The simple solution to this trapezius muscle pain is to fix your posture and start standing/sitting correctly. To do this try getting better chairs that provide support for your neck and encourage you to lean back, and try to think to check your posture on occasion (ask a friend to call you on it and check regularly too). Using yoga or Pilates you can also learn to conduct yourself with a better posture.
Having some kind of heavy or tight pressure on your trapezius muscles can of course cause them to hurt and unfortunately the trapezius muscles come under a lot of pressure in this respect thanks to heavy backpacks, shoulder bags and tight bra straps. The solution is of course to simply stop using such things – carry lighter items and loosen any tight clothing (get your bras professionally fitted).
Any awkward position held for too long can cause pain after a while. Again the trapezius muscles are particularly big culprits here and can start to ache as a result of holding a phone between your ear and shoulder (use hands free), having your computer monitor at the wrong height (adjust it or your chair), breastfeeding a baby (get instructions), sleeping in bad positions etc. Again this is just a matter of being aware of the problem and taking care to prevent yourself from sitting statically in the same position for too long – just remember to adjust your position from time to time.