Welcome to Muscles in Focus - a new, occasional series of blogposts where you’ll learn all about a muscle in your body. Today, we’re going to take a look at a muscle I’m asked to work on a lot - and for good reason. Tension headache? Sore neck? Sore upper back? Sore shoulders? There’s a muscle that can cause all of these issues and more if it isn’t happy - the trapezius.
What is the trapezius
The trapezius is a large, flat, superficial (meaning it’s close to the skin surface), kite-shaped muscle. It has the most extensive origin (the fixed point where the muscle attaches to the bone) of any muscle in the human body, and is divided into three parts - the upper, or descending part, the middle part, and the lower, or ascending part. Each part of the trapezius has a different role to play in moving the head, neck and shoulders.
What does the trapezius muscle do?
The trapezius is made up of particularly long muscle fibres, which span the width of the upper back. This allows it to fulfil postural functions - keeping the spine and neck upright.
The descending, or upper trapezius:
- Lifts the arms
- Rotates, extends, turns and tilts the neck and head
- Shrugs the shoulders
The middle trapezius:
- Helps to pull the shoulders back and extends the arms the body
- Pulls the shoulder blades in towards each other
- Stabilises the shoulders when moving the arms
The lower trapezius:
- Depresses the shoulders down away from the ears (“un-shrugs” them)
- Stabilises the spine during certain movements, including twisting and bending
Descending (upper) and ascending (lower) together:
- Rotates scapula upwards (lifts the shoulder blades)(1)
What can cause problems with the trapezius?
The trapezius can be involved in neck injuries (for instance, whiplash injuries). However, tears or strains of this muscle are uncommon, and are generally only seen in athletes such as bodybuilders who have attempted to lift too heavy a weight. High velocity accidents, such as car crashes, can also cause injury. (2)
The trapezius can become tight due to poor posture - sitting at a desk for long periods with the head in a forward position or shoulders hunched is a key cause of this. Emotional stress can also lead to the shoulders being hunched for long periods of time, causing discomfort in the trapezius area. Driving for long periods, with the arms reaching forward to the steering wheel, is another potential cause for pain in this part of the body.
Tightness or pain in this muscle can also refer pain to the head, leading to tension headaches.
Can massage help with tightness or pain in the trapezius muscle?
Massage can help to relieve tension, and therefore pain, in the trapezius muscle. This is one of the most common areas for me to be asked to treat, as so many of the things we do in the modern world seem tailor-made to cause trapezius pain! Sports massage can also relieve tension headaches, by relieving tension in the trapezius muscle, and also in the scalp and face.
Kinesiology tape can also help in some cases - please contact me directly if you would like to discuss using tape on your trapezius.
What else can I do to help with my trapezius?
Stretching can help to relieve a tight trapezius. Sit in a chair, ensuring that you are sitting with good posture (spine stacked so the vertebrae are sitting on top of one another like a stack of building blocks), shoulders relaxed, looking directly in front of you. Roll the shoulders back so that you feel as though your shoulder blades are coming together. Shrug your shoulders up towards the ears, then allow them to lower again gently. You can also flex your neck gently from side to side, by bringing the left ear over the left shoulder, then the right ear over the right shoulder.
You can also perform self-massage of the upper trapezius, by bringing the hand up to the base of the neck and kneading the muscle gently.
If you are suffering with tension headaches, tight shoulders or a tight neck, book now to find out how massage could help you.
Author Hannah Tabram. Category Blog. First published Thu, 30 Jun 2022 11:18:25 +0100