The trapezius is divided into left and right sides. Each side is further divided into sections. These specialized sections help move the shoulder blades, the neck and the head. The trapezius also helps control the upper chest when a person breathes.
What is a Trapezius Strain?
It is defined as a muscle strain of the upper back and is a stretching or tearing of the trapezius, which is one of the major muscles of the back responsible for moving, rotating, and stabilizing the shoulder blade and extending the head at the neck. This large muscle group spans the upper back, shoulders and neck. These muscles are commonly called the “trap” muscles.
Trapezius strains are commonly caused by overuse, but can also be caused through an acute injury such as a violent twist or collision. In the case of overuse, trapezius strains tend to occur when repetitive, low-impact activities are performed over a prolonged period of time. Continuous use of the shoulder muscles over a span of time can cause stress on these muscles, therefore something as simple as carrying a heavy bag for hours at a time can cause trapezius pain. These muscles are also commonly injured during weightlifting, or during contact sports.
An acute muscle injury occurs suddenly when the muscle experiences trauma, such as a hard fall or car collision. When there is a hard blow to the trapezius, there may be a bruise as well as other muscle strain symptoms. Pain and stiffness from an acute injury will be felt immediately.
Symptoms of a strained or torn trapezius
Depending on which part of the shoulder muscles is injured, symptoms of a trapezius strain vary from a mild muscle strain to a completely ruptured muscle or tendon.
Symptoms may include but are not limited to:
- Muscle stiffness
- Muscles spasms
- Soreness, aching, or burning sensations
- Swelling and possible headaches These symptoms may worsen with activity.
- Decreased range of motion in the shoulders or neck
These symptoms may worsen with activity. The pain may radiate from the shoulders through the upper back and neck. The injured area may feel warm and tingly. It may swell and the person may have a headache.
Preventions and Precautions
One of the most important injury prevention steps you can take to prevent a trapezius strain is to incorporate stretching into your daily routine. Whether it be before a workout, when you get out of bed in the morning, or before you anticipicate lifting a heavy object, stretching helps to loosen up your muscles so they’re less likely cramp or freeze when needed. Make trapezius stretching and strengthening exercises part of your usual routine, and be careful when exerting your arms and shoulders when lifting something heavy. A trapezius strain may sideline you for a few weeks, but a more serious muscle tear could limit the use of a shoulder or arm for months. If you are concerned, call a specialist to be evaluated and discuss.
Treatment options may include rest, activity modification, ice therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. Physical therapy or massage therapy may also be recommended in specific cases. Surgery is very rarely required, with most patients making a full recovery with non-operative management.