Trapezius Muscle Pain: My Aching Shoulders!

woman-rubbing-shoulder-for-stress.jpgYour trapezius muscles are some of the first to bother you when you are under stress. They ache and burn from the base of your skull to between your shoulder blades. The good news is that they are relatively easy to massage.

When we are under stress, one of the first muscles to cause us pain is our trap muscles, and part of that reason is because of the nifty role they play in our movement. If you are in pain now, skip to the “How to Massage your Trapezius” section. If you want tips on relieving trapezius muscle pain through better movement and posture, go to Trapezius Exercises.

The trapezius is a broad triangular muscle which attaches to the base of the skull, and lies at the back of the neck, over the upper shoulders and extends down your upper back to your mid back. It is one of the most likely muscles to get sore knots or “trigger points”.

The trap muscles are the only muscles which can lift the outside of your shoulders to create a “shrug”. They move the head and neck toward the shoulder of the other side. The middle of the muscles pull the shoulder blades together, while the lower draw the shoulder blades downward. They support the weight of the arms.

Often these movements are at play when we are under stress, and doing the activities that cause stress.

Where do Trapezius Muscles cause Pain?


Back Pain from Trapezius in Neck and Shoulders   Back Pain in Trapezius near Head

Trap pain is classic stress pain. Your shoulders ache, your neck hurts and it is often deep and achy. You may have a headache, especially in the temples or behind your eyes or at the base of your skull. You may feel burning between your shoulder blades after sitting at your computer without elbow support.

What causes Trapezius Muscle Pain?

  • Stress. Stress. Stress. Relax those shoulders!One of the first, primary causes of trapezius strain is carrying your shoulders up near your ears. Remember to relax your shoulders.
  • Head forward posture. Often people, particularly people in the west, people in charge, forward-thinking people, or people who are planning/worrying about the future stand and sit with a head forward position. Remember to sit up straight, lower your shoulders and bring your head back. This relieves strain on the trapezius. You can also try some online yoga to improve your posture.
  • Holding a phone between your ear and shoulder. Get a headset.
  • Carrying a heavy purse or backpack. Ask yourself if everything you have is really necessary. Switch your purse from one shoulder to the next frequently. Carry your important stuff in a fanny pack. And don’t forget to do your stretches.
  • Bra straps that are too tight or the weight of heavy breasts pulling on your straps. Have your bra fit by a person trained to get a good fit. And remember to do your trap stretches.
  • Breastfeeding a baby with your shoulders hunched forward and the weight of the baby in your arms can cause trapezius muscle pain. Check your posture and bring your shoulders back. Do side-lying whenever possible. Support the baby on a pillow on your lap. Remind yourself to take a small break from gazing at your sweetie once in a while, to bring your head up and relax your shoulders.
  • Sleeping on your back or stomach with your head turned to one side. Change your sleeping position (easier said than done).
  • Any position where you head is turned to one side for a long time. Are you a teacher and you turn to look at the student next to you? Do you turn to see your computer screen?
  • Bending forward while working. Do you bend forward to work at a sewing machine or look down at your knitting? Do you bend forward when you type at the computer? Do you do beading? Sit up!
  • Too high keyboard. Get a keyboard shelf for your desk.
  • Working with no arm rests and the weight of your arms hang from your shoulders. Get a chair with arm rests. Put your hands in your pockets if you are standing for a long time. Support your arms to prevent trapezius muscle pain.
  • Whip lash. This just takes recovery time.
  • Playing violin, piano, backpacking, bike riding, or other activities which heavily rely on the trapezius muscles. Remember to stretch. Watch your posture. Take a break when you need your trap muscles to recover.

Trapezius Exercises

You can prevent and relieve pain in your trapezius muscles by exercising them. Exercise brings circulation to the muscles, and it relaxes them. Most importantly, if done correctly exercise will strengthen supporting muscles that support good posture. You can relieve a lot of muscle strain by using many muscles groups in a relaxed with, without overworking your traps.

My Yoga (affiliate link) is an excellent way to get instruction on using your back correctly. They offer classes in Pilates, Yoga, and Meditation. For more information on how My Yoga Online works, go to Online Yoga Workout with My Yoga Online.

Massaging your Trapezius Muscles

It’s easy to find your trapezius muscles.


Finding your trapezius muscle

The top of your trapezius muscle is one of the most common locations for shoulder tension.

This is the most likely place someone will massage you when they give you a neck massage, and it often needs it. It can be tender and sore and have spots which “hurt so good” to be pressed. It is not hard to find knots and ropes in this muscle.

How to Massage your Trapezius

The trapezius muscles are very likely to have tender knots or trigger points. Pressing on these points can help release the muscle and ease the pain from its strain. Use your good judgment–do not press so hard or long that you hurt yourself! This is about stress relief and not injury,

Triggerpoints for sore trapezius muscles

When you press on any of the areas shown in red, you are likely to find a tender area. Apply firm but gentle pressure for 10-30 seconds. Sometimes you will feel the muscle relax under your fingers.

These areas can be difficult to reach if you are trying to massage your own back. Here are some tricks to get to the sore spots!

Lying Down

Giving yourself a shoulder massage

Gving yourself a shoulder massage lying down

When you lie down, your trapezius muscle relaxes because it doesn’t need to hold the weight of your arms. Be sure to use a pillow that keeps your neck exactly in line with your spine, otherwise the trap may get stressed in this position.

Once you are lying down, just knead your muscles and press on any sore spots.

Tennis Ball

Self back massage with a tennis ball--placing the ball   Self back massage with tennis ball--trigger point pressure

Place a tennis ball (or hard rubber ball) under your trapezius one of the tender areas and lie on it.

Self back massage--trapezius massage close-up

You can control the location and pressure by moving your body.

Self massage techniques: using a tennis ball against a door frame   Self massage techniques: using a tennis ball against a door frame for trapezius massage

Another nice way to reach your trap muscles is to use the tennis ball against a door frame. This looks more awkward than it feels. It is really a very nice way to massage the tops of your shoulders.

Body Back Buddy

Body Back Buddy: massaging your trap muscles   The Body-Back-Buddy: Trapezius massage

The Body Back Buddy is a handy tool which can help you reach many unreachable pressure points. You can use it easily on any of the areas of trapezius muscle pain.

I also recommend online yoga classes to help correct your posture, stretch your muscles and relieve your back pain.