Define Trapezius strain – Injury pain, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Recovery

What is trapezius strain?

One of the largest muscles in the body is trapezius muscle. It is shaped like a triangle and it passes through the neck and shoulder to the mid back region. A strain may be caused by the repetitive stress such as repetitive pushing, pulling, or lifting overhead activities on the trapezius muscle is called as Trapezius strain.

This trapezius strain cause significant pain and disability in the shoulder region. Trapezius Strain is quite an annoying and discomforting medical condition in which the affected individual finds it difficult to move the shoulders in any direction. Pain and discomfort in shoulder area are additional difficulties caused by trapezius strain.

Trapezius Strain- Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Recovery Period

Anatomy review of trapezius muscle

The shoulder girdle has a flat and triangular muscle called as trapezius muscle. The accessory nerve also called as cranial nerve XI and the cervical plexus. There are three types:

  1. Superior Part: also known as descending part, it runs from the occipital bone and nuchal ligament to the clavicle’s lateral third.
  2. Middle Part: also called as Transverse part. It inserts at the acromion (a bony process on the shoulder blade) and it originates from the spinal processes of the first to fourth thoracic vertebrae.
  3. Inferior Part: It is also known as ascending part; it extends from the spinal processes of the fifth to twelfth thoracic vertebrae to the scapular spine.

What is the function of trapezius muscle?

  • At thorax, trapezius muscle secures and stabilizes the shoulder and fulfills numerous tasks. It moves the shoulder blade medially and rotates it outward.
  • The descending part of trapezius cause elevation of scapula
  • The ascending part depresses the bone.
  • A unilateral contraction bends the head to the lateral flexion
  • Whereas a bilateral contraction raises the head and dorsal flexion (cervical vertebra column)

What pains are associated with the trapezius muscle?

  • A 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

What causes trapezius strain?

The trapezius muscle is a triangular muscle that goes to the mid-back region by passing through neck and shoulder. Repetitive stress on this region such as performing heavy and repetitive exercises that cause stress on the shoulder may lead to trapezius strain. The repetitive movements of the shoulders can cause irritation and inflammation in the shoulder because of improper and insufficient availability of rest periods needed by muscles. It may cause excessive arm and disability of the arm during working periods. Construction workers are most prone to this kind of strain due to constant lifting and carrying the heavy loads. Similarly, athletes are also prone to trapezius strain due to exercises like swimming, tennis, badminton and much more.

In addition to direct injuries to the trapezius muscle, strains can happen with:

Stress: The main cause of trapezius strain is carrying your shoulder in the upward directions, near your ears. You should relax your shoulders in order to get relief in trapezius strain.

Incorrect posture: Few people carry their head in a forward position such as people in the west, people in charge, forward thinking people, or people who think in head forward position. You should always sit straight, lowers your shoulders and bring your head back more occasionally. Yoga can prove extremely helpful in correcting posture.

Incorrect carrying of the phone: A trapezius strain can be caused when you hold your phone in between your ears and shoulder. In order to avoid such situation, you should use a headset.

Heavy load on back: A heavy purse or heavy load in your backpack cans put excessive strain on your shoulders. You can try switching your purse from one shoulder to another more frequently. You should always remember doing your stretches more often or whenever you got time.

Tight bra straps: Weight of heavy breasts, pulling your bra straps that are too tight can cause strain on your shoulders. You should go for a proper sized and best-fitted bra to avoid trapezius strain.

Breastfeeding: Long and continuous hours of breastfeeding with your shoulders hunched forward and the weight of the baby in your arms can put stress on your shoulders and it can also lead to trapezius muscle strain. You should try to bring your shoulders back and try side-lying whenever possible. Put a pillow below your baby on your lap, it will give extra support to your baby and to you as well. Relax your shoulder whenever got time.

Wrong sleeping posture: Sometimes wrong sleeping posture can cause severe pain in your shoulders when you wake up in the morning. It causes due to excessive and long term pressure on your shoulder while sleeping. Watch out your sleeping posture. Sleeping on your back with your head turned to one side.

Bad working posture: Some working positions such as stitching clothes on a sewing machine or looking down while knitting needs your head bending forward. Whenever you bend during working on the computer, remember to sit up and relax your shoulders. Long term turn of your head to one side can also cause strain in your shoulder muscles. So again remember to relax your shoulders.

Incorrect keyboard position: Very high placed keyboard can cause trapezius strain by a long time above the placed keyboard.

Unrest: Incomplete rest and weight on your arms hang from your shoulders cause stress on your shoulder and ultimately pain and inability while working. You should place your hands on a chair with arm rests (when sitting on a chair), put your hands in your pockets (if standing for a long time). Provide support your arms to avoid trapezius pain.

Playing instruments like piano, and violin: or other activities which heavily rely on the trapezius muscles. Remember to stretch. Watch your posture. Take a break when you need your trap muscles to recover.

What are the symptoms of trapezius strain?

Severe pain in shoulder and trapezius muscle is the main symptom of trapezius strain. Shoulders, arms, and neck may suffer from pain that radiates from the upper back. Even with the little movements of hands and shoulder may cause excruciating pain

You may experience any one or more of the following symptoms accompanying a trapezius strain:

  • Difficulty in moving the neck and shoulders
  • Muscle spasms
  • Neck stiffness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Lack of shoulder range of motion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Warmth radiating from the muscle
  • Swelling
  • Headaches
  • Arm weakness
  • Concentration difficulties

How long the pain lasts?

The answer for “how long trapezius strain lasts” depends on many factors such as causes and source of pain, the strain caused lifestyle changes, body’s response to a particular treatment. Only one cause cannot tell the duration of pain. The healing of trapezius strain may need extra time to relax the muscle and for getting relief. The pain can last for one week to 6 weeks, depending on the severity of the strain. Also make sure to stay hydrated and follow a well-balanced diet, especially during the healing period.

How is trapezius strain diagnosed?

Whenever you feel like continuous and severe pain in your shoulder, you should always consult with your physician in order to get it checked.

Your doctor will take your history initially in order to find out the exact cause of the muscle strain and he will ask about your occupation that may require continuous and repetitive movements of arms or lifting of heavy materials. He may also ask about your physical activities such as if you are involved in any kind of sports such as tennis, badminton, or volley ball. After complete information of the exact cause of the strain, he will examine the right location of pain and strain. He will check the area of warmth and tenderness.

Radiologic studies in the form of X-Rays may be asked, it will help him to understand the structures of affected trapezius region. With the help of radiologic studies, he can rule out the other causes of pain and discomfort also and will confirm the diagnosis of Trapezius strain.

How is trapezius strain treated?

The treatment of the trapezius Strain is dependent on the extent of the strain and various approaches are adopted for treating it. The aim of the treatment should be based upon reducing pain and inflammation associated with trapezius strain.

Medications for trapezius strain

Medications such as NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are beneficial in reducing discomfort associated with pain and inflammation in trapezius muscles. Such medications improve the flexibility and productivity of the arms. In case you are not able to find relief from such over the counter pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications, you should talk to your doctor, he may prescribe you stronger pain medications such as narcotic pain medications, a limited amount should be taken that is also with the prescription of the doctor. In excruciating pain, the steroid shots can also be given in order to get instant relief and for increasing mobility of the shoulders. Another treatment one can consider for reducing inflammation and discomfort of the muscles is “Ice treatment”. Remember to do this treatment after the two days of injury. Some ice is taken in a towel and is applied on the affected area for about 20 minutes two to three times a day.

Ice therapy for trapezius strain

Ice therapy can be used for treating the muscle spasms and strains as well. Ice therapy treats the muscle strain by reducing circulation, metabolic activity thereby alleviates inflammation, numbness, and pain in the muscles. For this treatment, wrap the ice in a towel and place it on the affected area for approx. 20 minutes. For the first two days, repeat the process for 2 to 3 times a day. After completing the ice therapy, you can switch to heat by applying the heating pad or a warm towel to the affected area in the same manner as described for the ice therapy.

Physical therapy for trapezius strain

Physical therapy can also be adopted after treatment with ice therapy; it helps in faster healing of the trapezius strain. The physical therapist will formulate exercises to include stretching and strengthening exercises along with range of motion exercises to increase strength and flexibility of the shoulder. The therapist will make sure that these exercises are done and advanced in a gradual manner so as not to injure the shoulder even more.

What are some home remedies for trapezius strain?

Trapezius strain is a problem that can be treated at home by using some home remedies and some exercises that can be done at home easily. You need to start with issues of the pain and inflammation in the affected shoulder by using soft and cushiony pillows that to be placed on your couch or bed. You should always maintain the affected area above the level of the heart (by avoiding bending) to help with the swelling.


The pain from strain can be reduced by the effective massage. You should apply the firm pressure with your index and middle fingers to the painful spot. Start massaging in the circular motion after one minute for 2 minutes; it will help to reduce the stiffness in the muscles.

pulled trapezius muscle how long to heal


Resting your shoulders for a while is the most important thing you can do to get relief in your trapezius strain. Keep your arms and shoulder protected and immobilized for few days as it will help you to prevent the tearing of the fibers. Short movements can be started after few days of complete rest. You will notice more relief and more productivity in your arm after a period of rest.

Other remedies

Ginger and Pineapple are found beneficial in providing relief in inflammation. Being a natural healer they can take quite long but once it starts showing effects, you will feel tremendous relief in your pain and inflammation associated with a trapezius strain. Ginger contains bisabolene and zingiberene. A dose of 250 mg to 1 gm ginger powder, two to three times daily will effectively reduce the inflammation and pain of muscle strain. Similarly, pineapple contains bromelain and consumption of 40 mg of bromelain, three to four times a day will be helpful in reducing inflammation of affected muscles.

Where are Lymph nodes located? Why does it get swollen? Its causes, symptoms and treatments