Trapezius Strain: Causes, Symptoms, and Home Remedies

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Trapezius strainPerforming repetitive tasks that, directly or indirectly, require the use of your arms, shoulders, and back, increases the risk for a trapezius muscle strain. The trapezius muscle is located on your upper and middle back in the shape of a triangle. This muscle is what allows you to raise your arm to wave hello and shrug your shoulders. Damage to this muscle has dire consequences and can happen in the blink of an eye. Let’s learn the various causes and home treatments for a trapezius strain.

Our trapezius muscle is one of the largest muscles in our body and is responsible for the ability to move in more ways than others. It is divided into the three sections— upper, middle, and lower—and joins the shoulders with our upper spine and neck. Straining this muscle may cause you to experience pain, stiffness, and a reduction in the range of motion of your neck and arms.

What Is Trapezius Strain?

A trapezius strain occurs when any part of this muscle becomes stretched beyond normal functioning. As one of the larger muscles, injury to the trapezius can cause discomfort and pain in performing daily tasks. With this strain, raising arms over the head, reaching, or pushing or pulling could result in resistance to mobility. It could also decrease the range of motion of your arms, shoulders, and neck.

What Causes Trapezius Strain?

Trapezius muscle pain causes usually have a link to trauma experienced by sports injuries and auto accidents. Another common reason for a trapezius strain is the repetitive motion of the shoulders. We tend to put a lot of strain and pressure on our shoulder region with easy tasks such as lifting, pulling, and even typing on a keyboard. Since we depend on the use of the trapezius muscle continuously, the tissues could easily become overworked and result in inflammation, which causes the muscle strain.

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

  • Poor posture
  • Blunt force to the head
  • Whiplash
  • Prolonged sitting at a work desk
  • Medical conditions such as arthritis

What Are the Symptoms of Trapezius Strain?

The most notable of trapezius strain symptoms is severe pain in the trapezius muscle. This pain may radiate from the upper back to the neck, shoulders, and arms. Excruciating at times, the pain of a trapezius strain can intensify with any movement of the hands and arms.

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 to Diagnose Trapezius Strain

The first sign of a trapezius strain, aside from pain, is swelling within the affected region. For a diagnosis confirmation, your doctor will begin with your medical history, work habits, and participation in common activities. A physical examination of the trapezius muscle region will focus on areas of tenderness or warmth to the touch. You may undergo imaging tests such as x-rays to have an inside look at the trapezius muscle.

Medical Treatments for Trapezius Strain

Since a strain of the trapezius muscle can range from small to severe, your doctor may offer various treatments. Any treatment prescribed targets the associated pain and discomfort as well as improving the range of motion of the back, neck, shoulders, and arms. Medications may include an anti-inflammatory to combat pain and inflammation, a narcotic prescription if the pain is severe, or a steroid injection in cases where the pain is debilitating. These pain medications will in effect, improve the range of motion as well.

With the inflammation resolved and the pain alleviated, your next step may be meeting with a physiotherapist to help with the range of motion of the affected area. Performing exercises that focus on strengthening the trapezius muscle will reduce your healing time.

Home Remedies for Trapezius Strain

To treat a trapezius muscle strain at home, you may want to start with the issue of pain and inflammation with elevating the affected area by using pillows to prop you up on a couch or bed. With an injury such as a strain, it is important to maintain the affected area above the level of the heart to help with the swelling.

Wrap ice in a towel and place it on the affected area for 20 minutes. Repeat this two or three times a day for the first two days. The next step is to switch to heat by applying a heating pad or warmed towel to the affected area. Again, do this two or three times each day for the next two days.

You can also use massage to deal with pain from the strain. Apply firm pressure with your index and middle fingers to the painful spot. After one minute, begin massaging in a circular motion for one to two minutes as this will also help to alleviate any stiffness.

Be sure to keep the affected area protected and immobilized for the first few days to prevent tearing of the fibers. After that, you can slowly begin to use the trapezius muscle in short movements.

For those who use herbal remedies to treat various aches, pains, and ailments, there is help. Ginger is a natural healer of inflammation, with the oil form containing beta-bisabolene and zingiberene. You can reduce swelling and pain by taking 250 milligrams to one gram of ginger root powder, three or four times daily. Another popular remedy for inflammation is the consumption of 40 milligrams of bromelain, found in pineapple, three or four times a day.

A trapezius muscle strain can affect your lifestyle and daily activities, as well as some job tasks. When you injure or damage the muscle, you may have reduced mobility, pain, and discomfort in your upper back, neck, shoulders, and possibly the arms. The home treatment of applying ice and heat may lessen the swelling and inflammation, and alleviate the pain.


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“Sprains and Strains,” Mayo Clinic;, last accessed April 12, 2017.