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How do I Treat a Trapezius Injury?

By Jennifer Voight
Updated May 17, 2024
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The trapezius is a long muscle that runs from the base of the skull to the shoulder. Since it moves the neck and shoulder, it is commonly tensed during concentration and is prone to repetitive stress injury (RSI). A minor trapezius injury can be treated with rest in a neutral position and ice for the first 48 hours. After the first two days and once any swelling has subsided, heat, massage, and over-the-counter pain medication can help relieve pain. A more severe injury may require diagnostic imaging, such as an x-ray or CT scan, to determine appropriate treatment.

Trapezius injury may be difficult to diagnose. Neck pain can manifest itself in a different location than the actual injury. A tensed trapezius muscle can knot up and radiate pain signals that appear to be in a different location of the neck than the actual site of injury. Office workers, factory workers, or anyone who stays in the same position for a long time runs the risk of pain and tension in the trapezius, called trapezius myalgia. The trapezius may also be injured during sudden movements during sports or as a result of a car accident.

Immediately after a trapezius injury, resting the head and neck in a neutral position will help prevent further injury and allow stretched muscles to heal. A supportive bed pillow should be used while sleeping, since poor sleep positions can aggravate injured muscles. Applying a cold compress to the injured muscle in the first 48 hours causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow and inflammation to the affected area. Sitting upright holding the head neutral position also reduces blood flow to the area.

After the first two days have passed and once the initial swelling has subsided, heat will help stimulate blood flow to the area and further the healing of the injury. If there is still pain, the muscle may be inflamed, placing pressure on nerves. Over the counter anti-inflammatory pain medications, like ibuprofen, will reduce painful inflammation.

Further injury can be avoided by strengthening the trapezius and other neck muscles through stretching and exercise, specifically weight training. It can also be helpful to take frequent breaks during repetitive work to move so muscles can stretch and prevent spasms. Improving work posture and ergonomic design of workspaces can help avoid repetitive stress injuries to the trapezius.

Danger signs of more serious trapezius injury include numbness, dizziness, or a pain increase when moving the head. Numbness or weakness in the arm could mean that a nerve is damaged and should be evaluated by a doctor. If the pain lasts more than 2 or 3 weeks, physical therapy may help with healing.

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Discussion Comments

By anon345802 — On Aug 22, 2013

I have tight traps and tight neck and shoulder muscles. There's no pain; I feel as if they are frozen.

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