The trapezius is one of the upper back muscles. It is a large triangular muscle that runs from the occipital bone in the skull to the thoracic spine in the back.

It extends to the width of the shoulders.

The muscle separates into three sections: the superior, middle, and inferior. Each segment of the muscle plays a role in specific movements of the neck and shoulders.

In this article, learn more about the functions of the trapezius, causes of pain and soreness in this muscle, and how to relieve pain.

Functions

The trapezius muscle is part of the upper back.

The trapezius stabilizes the shoulder blades and also facilitates shoulder and neck movement.

The superior or upper segment of the muscle helps elevate the shoulder blades. The upper trapezius also helps rotate and tilt the neck.

The middle trapezius brings the shoulder blades back and also provides stabilization for the shoulder during some arm movements. The lower trapezius helps bring the shoulder blades back down.

The trapezius can become painful or sore for many reasons. Pain in the trapezius may also have accompanying symptoms, such as:

  • muscle stiffness
  • shoulder or neck pain
  • muscle spasms
  • tingling or numbness in one or both arms
  • decreased range of motion in the shoulders or neck

Causes of trapezius pain

There are several possible causes of trapezius pain, including:

  • Overuse: Pain in the trapezius often develops due to overuse. Repetitive activities that involve the shoulders can put stress on the muscle. These activities may include lifting heavy objects or participating in specific sports, such as swimming.
  • Stress: It is common for people to tense the muscles of the shoulder and neck when they feel stressed. This excess tension can lead to muscle soreness over time.
  • Poor posture: Prolonged poor posture can place added stress on the trapezius. Hunching over a desk or computer keyboard for many hours, for example, can result in the muscle becoming shortened and tight.
  • Trauma: Injuries to the trapezius, such as a muscle tear from placing too much force on the muscle, can lead to pain.

Stretches

1. Cat stretch

To do the cat stretch:

  • Get into position on all fours on the floor.
  • Inhale and curl the spine up toward the ceiling while contracting the abdominal muscles.
  • Hold the position for 15 seconds.
  • Exhale and allow the belly to sink toward the floor, arching the back.

2. Ear-to-shoulder

To do an ear-to-shoulder stretch:

  • Sit up straight in a chair.
  • Slowly bend the head over to the left side as though trying to touch the ear to the shoulder.
  • Place the left hand on the head and gently pull it down toward the shoulder for a deeper stretch.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
  • Release the head and perform the same stretch on the right side.

3. Hug stretch

To do a hug stretch:

  • Stand up straight.
  • Reach the right arm across the chest and hold the left shoulder. Do the opposite on the other side to hold the right shoulder with the left hand.
  • Press down on the left shoulder with the right hand while leaning the head to the right.
  • Hold the stretch for about 20 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.

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