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What are Symptoms of a Trapezius Strain?

Trapezius strains manifest as sharp pain, stiffness, or weakness in the upper back and neck. You might notice difficulty moving your head or shoulders, or experience headaches stemming from muscle tension. Visual cues include swelling or muscle spasms. Ready to learn how to alleviate these symptoms and prevent future strain? Let's explore effective treatments and strengthening exercises together.
Patti Kate
Patti Kate

Trapezius strain symptoms can manifest in sore and aching muscle pain which radiates from the shoulders to the back of the neck. The discomfort can also be felt in the upper part of the back, between the shoulder blades. Shoulder pain is most commonly felt at the start of a trapezius strain injury, and can be made worse through improper posture and repetitive motion.

When a patient is suffering from trapezius strain, the general soreness makes the muscles between the shoulder blades feel tense. The symptoms reflect that of overworked tension in the back of the shoulders. This pain can feel like a constant ache that is relieved by rest. In some cases, this discomfort can disrupt sleep. The individual may find it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position, due in part to the compression of the shoulder muscles.

Slouching can cause a trapezius strain.
Slouching can cause a trapezius strain.

Symptoms of a trapezius strain can feel worsened by activity. This is especially true when the individual works at a computer for example. He or she may exhibit poor posture, or constantly slouch while performing daily duties. After several hours, the symptoms may manifest into a constant ache that is difficult to relieve.

When some individuals develop a trapezius strain, he or she may also feel heat in the general area of injury. This heat is caused by inflammation of the muscles and tendons surrounding the trapezius area. Often a tingling or warm sensation can be felt in the shoulder area as well. In some cases, especially when shoulder pain is present, warmth or tingling can radiate down the arm.

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

Swelling can be a symptom associated with trapezius strain as well. There may be an area of localized swelling or puffiness above the shoulder, or in back of the shoulder. The swelling also may be accompanied by redness or tenderness at the injury site. The soft tissue extending from beneath the trapezius muscle may make the surface of the skin feel warm to the touch.

Pain is one symptom of a trapezius strain.
Pain is one symptom of a trapezius strain.

Inability to perform daily activities can be symptoms of a trapezius strain. Such activities the individual may have difficulty with might include stretching or extending the arm without pain or discomfort. Pain when lifting objects are another common symptom of trapezius injury strain. When grasping and lifting, the individual may feel limited mobility or moderate pain.

Swelling is one sign of a trapezius strain.
Swelling is one sign of a trapezius strain.

Occasionally, headache pain and sore neck muscles may be associated with trapezius injuries. The headache may be felt at the base of the skull, extending to the entire neck area. Often this pain is relieved by the use of anti-inflammatory medications or applications of ice.

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Discussion Comments


I have sustained knife cut injury on my LHS trapezius about 30cm long and 20cm deep so is there any remedy for my muscle tissues rebuilding their cells despite the scars.


I regularly get a strong burning sensation in my trapezius muscles.


Though I enjoyed reading all the posts, my situation is far worse and painfully extreme. I don't know exactly when the injury/damage occurred to my right trap but it's either 20 (1986) years ago weight lifting or in 2009 while moving. Either way, since 2009, the pain has progressively worsened to the point now that literally nothing really helps. I have tried all measure of P/T including the turning point from tolerable to horrible, acupuncture. I felt the needles go in and come out despite what the therapist said. It was the worst pain ever! I have done trigger point injections that I received no relief from and lastly, Botox shots (4 series). The last series of Botox shots produced no relief and the worse pain ever imaginable, including tooth nerve pain. I wouldn't lie. My T-shirt hurt to wear, so I had to go shirtless for hours at a time.

I just had two MRI's in the past few weeks and the doctor said they show nothing. I am terrified of living on pain meds that barely work. My body metabolizes the meds so fast, that it takes almost two hours to get any relieve. Everything hurts, even resting my arm across my wife's back when in bed. So I don't even have to lift anything any longer. Life hurts now! The only time I feel any relief is when I drive long distances. Go figure!

If anyone knows of a treatment I haven't tried, let me know. I'm seriously open to "witch doctors" and "medicine men" at this point. I just want a life without so much pain. I sit at a 10+ most of the time and after 4 tramadol and a muscle relaxer, I'm lucky to hit a five on the pain scale. The only upside is the meds don't affect my ability to work, drive or stand and train all day. However, they are likely killing my organs somehow. I can't prove it, but that stuff just can't be good long term.

Any help out there?


Now six months post surgery: right shoulder total replacement due to arthritis [left tsr two years ago due to same damage]

The joint was subluxed when I came from surgery! Two weeks of physio exercise resulted in continued pain, swelling etc!

The X-ray revealed new joint now 5mm dislocated! Finally reduced under GA by surgeon, followed by wearing a sling for three months!

I have bad neck problems. Trapezius muscle etc also damaged as a result of three months in sling. Admitted by the 'surgeon' at my six month checkup, but as the joint is now stable, they can't do more for me! Wonderful, thanks!

Physiotherapy causes worsening of pain, and they won't do any more until I see my GP in two more weeks. Hopefully my GP can do something!


I had very tight trapezius muscles which caused very bad headaches. Aas crazy as it sounds I found a site which recommended calf trigger point massage. I had almost instant relief by pressing sore points in my calf muscle, it was a miracle cure for me.


I busted something in my upper body doing a shoulder press with 20 pounds more than normal. It hurt bad. I have to basically turn my whole body to look to the left. found out it was a trap strain. I got a deep tissue massage and took plenty of water and ibuprofen. Things are feeling better. I'm just sore and stiff. It's not the debilitating pain that I felt for a day. Deep tissue massage helps big time.


I did something to my muscles in my back, and we figured it was the trapezius muscle probably pinching a nerve. I simply can't stand the pain. It has been two week and I simply can't stand the pain any longer. If I lay down, it is better, but I sit up each day at work and I am in tears right now. I can't take this and I have had over 30 surgeries, so I know what pain is all about. This is absurd. Besides icing and pt, what else can I do?


I have this. Got it last August as a cashier. I have yet to see a doctor since I thought it wasn't anything to really worry about. The only comfort I got was to just wear a sling, as I do now. I'm seeing a doctor in July.


I also play softball, and I'm the short-stop for my team. I was fine when I started the season but now it's mid season and I started feeling pain in my right shoulder every time I would throw. I even warm up before every game and cool down also.

I've been putting muscle cream on it before every game and the pain goes away until after the game! I even started putting ice on it also! But the thing is I can still lift my arm over my head and not feel any pain. It's only when I throw the ball, or when my mom massages my shoulder. It's really tender in one or two spots.


I think having neck muscle pain is about the worst kind to have outside of throwing out your lower back. I'm not sure whether it is my trapezius or neck muscle that I pull every now and then, but sometimes if I turn my head quickly in an odd position, or if I sleep awkwardly, I'll end up with a lot of pain whenever I turn my head. I think everyone has probably experienced this at some point.

I don't know if there really is any quick fix for getting rid of the pain besides not turning your head in one direction.

Besides that, I usually have a little soreness after I do a lot of exercises involving my shoulders, but it goes away after a day. If I have any lingering pain, I think muscle creams are usually the most effective way to treat it.


I decided to get back into shape recently and started a new workout program. After the first day of working my arms and shoulders I ended up with a trapezius strain. I guess I was probably using more weight than I should have.

I felt fine until I went to bed that night. I woke up halfway through the night and couldn't hardly stand the pain. The article is definitely right about it being uncomfortable to sleep with a trapezius strain. It was especially bad for me, since I usually sleep with my arms over my head.

I found that the best spot was to just lying on my back with my arms crossed over my chest. It wasn't great, but didn't put a lot of strain on the muscles. The next day, I stretched periodically throughout the day, and felt well enough by the next night not to have severe discomfort.


@matthewc23 - Great tips. I'm guessing the team usually does warm-ups before playing. One of my favorite moves to stretch out the shoulders is just crossing one arm straight across the body so that you're basically resting your chin on your bicep. Then use your other arm to pull the first arm close to your body. You should feel the stretching in your trapezius. Obviously, repeat the process equally with both arms.

One other important thing to remember is to do a proper cool down. I remember when I used to play sports, there were a lot of warmups, but not much cool down time. Even if you don't do it as a team, you should take a few minutes at the end of practice to repeat the stretching exercise I just explained. That should help out greatly.


@anamur - If your trapezius muscle strains are always associated with regular exercise like playing softball, I'd say your real problem isn't weak muscles, but just that you aren't stretching properly before physical activity.

I used to play baseball in high school, and getting a good stretch before you start playing or practicing is always key. This is especially true if you are in the outfield or a pitcher who regularly has to throw the ball with a lot of force, since the shoulder muscles do a lot of the work in those cases.

My recommendation would be to do plenty of arm circles before playing. Just hold your arms straight out to the sides with your fingers pointing up, and rotation your arms in small forward and backward circles from your shoulders. It will probably be kind of painful at first, but it works.


Does anyone experience tightness, numbness and muscle spasms when they strain their trapezius?

I seem to have a weakness with my trapezius because I strain it way too often. It takes about a week to go back to normal, but once I'm back to playing softball, it acts up again.

Ice and sometimes heat therapy seems to help. But I've noticed that I get more than one kind of symptom when I have an upper trapezius strain. Sometimes I get a lot of tightness around my neck and shoulder as if something is pulling on it. Sometimes it feels kind of numb. And lately, I noticed that when I'm sleeping, I get these spasms in my shoulder.

Is this normal? Has anyone else experienced something similar?


@feruze-- A deep tissue massage might be too much, but you could try some light massage at home with an analgesic topical ointment. It'll help with the pain and stiffness. If the pain lasts for a long time though, you should see a doctor because physical therapy might be necessary.

My husband had the same injury and no matter what we did, the pain didn't go away. It was bearable when he was sitting upright but he was in so much pain when he laid down, walked around or crouched in his chair. He was sleepless most nights and had to take time off from work.

We went to the doctor and they took a film and decided on physical therapy. He went to physical therapy for more than a month and continued to do trapezius strain exercises at home. Lots of rest followed by these exercises healed the injury.


I strained my trapezius while wrestling with my brother. He jumped on my neck and shoulder and something went wrong. It was very painful and even after I put ice on it, the pain continued. It's like a constant ache now, as the article said. I don't have headaches (maybe from the pain relievers I'm taking) but my neck and shoulders feel extremely stiff.

Is there anything else I can do for trapezius strain treatment, aside from applying ice on my neck and shoulders? It's been two days, so I don't think ice is going to do much now.

Is massage a good idea?

I could go for a deep tissue massage but I'm scared that it's going to be worse off than before.

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    • Slouching can cause a trapezius strain.
      By: Image Source IS2
      Slouching can cause a trapezius strain.
    • An anatomical illustration including the trapezius near the top.
      By: mikiradic
      An anatomical illustration including the trapezius near the top.
    • Pain is one symptom of a trapezius strain.
      By: blanche
      Pain is one symptom of a trapezius strain.
    • Swelling is one sign of a trapezius strain.
      By: aetb
      Swelling is one sign of a trapezius strain.