What is the Trapezius Muscle?

Mary McMahon

The trapezius muscle is a triangular muscle which extends from the neck to the midback, and across to cover the shoulder blades. Humans have two trapezius muscles, one on each side of the body, with the two muscles creating a diamond-like shape which inspired the name “trapezius,” a reference to a trapezoid. These muscles move in a number of different ways, and are responsible for several unique and distinctive movements, including the shrug, in which the shoulders are lifted up in a straight line.

Exercise may cause stiffness and soreness in the trapezius muscle.
Exercise may cause stiffness and soreness in the trapezius muscle.

The trapezius can move the scapula or shoulder blade in a number of ways beyond the shrug, and it is also involved in the rotation of the head and neck. These muscles are also considered accessory breathing muscles, because they help to open up the chest for breathing, and they support the weight of the arms.

The scapula, also known as the shoulder blade, connects the collarbone and the upper arm.
The scapula, also known as the shoulder blade, connects the collarbone and the upper arm.

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Many people develop pain in their traps, as the trapezius muscles are known, due to stress, heavy lifting, and certain types of exercise. Pain and stiffness can result in a limited range of motion for the shoulders and neck. The trapezius can feel sore, hard, or hot as a result of irritation, and the muscle can easily be felt along the back of the shoulder and the neck. This location is also easy to access for self-massage, allowing people to bring relief to sore traps and to use massage to increase their range of motion.

The trapezius is a diamond-shaped muscle located in the upper back.
The trapezius is a diamond-shaped muscle located in the upper back.

Neck and shoulder massage for the trapezius muscle is very easy to do. People can try lightly kneading with their fingers, involving the whole hand in kneading, applying pressure with the knuckles or palms, and moving the fingers in small circular motions to work the muscle. It is important to massage evenly on both sides, and to start out gently, increasing the pressure as the muscle softens and warms up. Too much pressure at the start can result in damage to the muscle.

An anatomical illustration including the trapezius near the top.
An anatomical illustration including the trapezius near the top.

People who develop a sore trapezius may want to use massage to address the pain, but they should also develop their traps and consider adjusting their habits to prevent future injuries. Shoulder shrugs and shoulder raises with and without weights can be used to make the trapezius stronger, and several yoga stretches also work this muscle, increasing flexibility and tone. A strong trapezius will be more difficult to injure. Habit modifications like learning to lift more effectively and stretching periodically at work will also reduce the risk of injury to the trapezius muscle.

People who develop a sore trapezius may want to consider a massage to address the pain.
People who develop a sore trapezius may want to consider a massage to address the pain.

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Discussion Comments

anon973137

I got in a car accident and tore my trapezius and threw my lower mid back out. It swells up when I exercise now. My blood pressure spikes and my back hurts where I tore it out, and my shoulder and neck throb. I do anti inflammatories and ice and exercise, but I get to feeling worse the more I do. I feel pretty flippy in a few hours. Anybody else have this problem?

somerset

Trapezius muscle can get sore by repetitive motion, or by sitting in the same position while doing work such as computer work, or if you are like my sister who makes a special kind of home made pasta, she tends to get neck pain because she stands in the same position for an extended period of time, until the pasta is done.

It is worth doing resistance exercises to strengthen the muscle and make it more flexible.

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