The trapezius muscle in the shoulder needs treatment when it is injured.
Causes of Trapezius Injuries
The trapezius is a muscle that extends from the base of the head through the upper back, and over to the shoulder blade (scapula). It supports the arm and moves the scapula.1 A strain to the trapezius can lead to muscle pain in the region of the shoulders and back of the neck, as well as the upper back. Repetitive motion and poor posture both may contribute to the shoulder pain. The muscles between the shoulder blades can feel tense, and resting may relieve the overworked feeling; however sometimes the trapezius strain can interrupt sleep due to the fact that the patient may not find a comfortable position. Working at a computer and slouching during daily activities could lead to a constant ache. When the tendons and muscles are inflamed, the inflammation may feel like heat, warmth, or tingling (which may “radiate down the arm”). Patients may also experience swelling, sore neck muscles, and headache, especially “at the base of the skull”.2 Typically, the trapezius strain is a repetitive stress (strain) injury (RSI), and this can affect musicians, athletes, computer users, or people who just hold a phone between the shoulder and ear. Overuse, without rest, may cause “knots or tightness” in the upper trapezius due to spasms.3
Stretches, Exercises, and Ergonomics
It is recommended that patients exercise to overcome RSIs, as well as correct their posture. It is critical that patients learn proper ergonomics when performing their repetitive activities, as well. Patients need to sit in a proper position or lift in a particular way, for example, and healthcare professionals can provide patients with education about ergonomics. In addition, patients can learn exercises and stretches to improve their strength and posture, such as shoulder shrugs, neck side-bending, neck rotation, scapular pinches, and the “neck side-bending/rotation stretch”. There are also gym exercises that can be taught.4 Patients need to pay attention to times during the day when they are feeling tight. Regular shoulder shrugs can alleviate this. To stretch the traps and move into a proper position, patients can place their hand on the painful shoulder to keep it from riding up while taking the other hand and placing it on top of the head (fingers pointed to the back), all while keeping the neck in line with the back. Another stretch to try is pulling the head forward with the chin towards the neck and holding in that position. Some patients may benefit from using a tennis ball to massage the traps, while others may wish to seek a massage therapist.5
Massage and Chiropractic
Stress is another cause of shoulder tension, as is regularly carrying a heavy bag. While seeking treatment and recovering from a strain, it is critical for patients to avoid aggravating behaviors.6 Massage therapists and chiropractors can help patients work on trigger points. Some chiropractic or massage treatment involves instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM), which uses tools to treat “scar tissue, fascial restrictions and fibrotic adhesions”.6 Other chiropractors are trained in Active Release Technique (ART), which “breaks down scar tissue and promotes proper movement”. This could improve range of motion and release nerve entrapment.7
Learn more about treating the rotator cuff injuries.