How to Prevent Lower Trapezius Pain
This article was updated for accuracy and relevancy on January 12, 2022.
Most people go to the gym to train the big, sexy, beach muscles, but, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you aren’t training the lower trapezius muscle. I can guarantee that the biggest, strongest, and baddest looking guy at the gym will crumble if I were to test the strength of their lower trapezius muscle. The lower trap is not the sexiest muscle but it is an integral muscle for the function of the shoulder.
Let’s first talk about where it is in the body. The lower trapezius is located just below the upper trapezius, that one muscle that is always tense and has knots galore on your upper back. The lower trapezius is connected to the thoracic spine and the spine of the scapula (aka shoulder blade). This forgotten muscle has three important jobs for the proper functioning of the scapula. It helps with upward rotation of the scapula which is necessary to reach for things above your head. It also helps to depress and adduct the scapula. Lastly, proper scapula motion is integral for shoulder mobility.
When forgetting to train the lower trap, it can lead to muscle imbalance problems. The muscle imbalance in the upper extremity usually entails short and tight pec minor muscle and long and weak lower trap muscle. Over time if you leave the muscle balance untreated, you may develop shoulder pain and poor posture, as trigger points in the muscle become more sensitized. The most common areas where trapezius trigger points can occur are along the shoulders, shoulder blades, and back of the neck. Prolonged trapezius stiffness can also cause rotator cuff tendinopathy. However, because all aspects of the body are connected, muscle strain and tightness can be felt in other areas of the body, such as the chest, elbows, knees, and the front of the neck.
Causes of Lower Trapezius Pain
If you’re experiencing neck pain, you have likely strained or injured your trapezius muscle (possibly trapezius myalgia). Common causes of this muscle pain include:
- Stress – Stress and shoulder pain are linked. If you have been experiencing frequent stress, it can cause your shoulder and neck muscles to tense up, causing discomfort and tightness.
- Poor posture – Be aware of your posture. Hunching may cause increased stress on the trapezius, resulting in rounded shoulder and chronic neck pain.
- Overuse or underuse – Exercise is great, but overuse of this muscle will result in trapezius muscle pain. Be aware of your daily activities and make sure you aren’t putting too much strain on the area, which could ultimately lead to injury.
However, there’s still hope. You can rid yourself of lower trapezius pain and get back to optimal health with these simple exercises. The first thing we can all do is to be more aware of your posture by incorporating various prehab exercises into your daily routine. Secondly, we should work on stretching tight chest muscles. Lastly, we should work to strengthen our weak lower trap muscle.
What to do to Stretch Trapezius Muscle
Next time you’re at the gym try these trapezius exercises to address both active and latent trigger points:
- Doorway Pec Stretch: Stand between a doorway with arms above the shoulders to stretch the pec muscle. Make sure to put the weight through the legs and not through the arms.
- Wall Angels: Stand with your back and arms against the wall with your arms and elbows at 90 degrees like you are under arrest. Next slide your arms up and then back down the wall making sure to keep the back of your hands touching the wall.
- Prone Ys: Lie on your stomach and form a Y position with your arms and raise your arms up against gravity making sure to depress the scapula.
If you think you’re experiencing a trapezius strain, attempt these exercises immediately for pain relief. If it gets worse, it may negatively affect your scapular motion. Scapular motion is what allows you to move and rotate your neck and shoulder blades. If you think your mobility is getting worse, it may be time to attempt other treatments or start physical therapy.
Along with stretching, there are other various remedies to help with trapezius muscle pain.
- Apply Ice/Heat: Doing both these forms of therapy can reduce inflammation in the neck and shoulder blade. Apply ice or heat daily to minimize discomfort and promote healing.
- Dry needling: Dry needling physical therapy requires inserting needles at trigger points that may be causing pain. A common physical therapy technique, this remedy usually rids patients of muscle knots.
- Taping: Taping is very common to treat a trapezius strain. Applying elastic tape to the affected area relieves pressure and reduces pain.
Addressing Trapezius Pain
These are just a few initial exercises from our physical therapists to treat lower trapezius pain. Once you have established motor control of the lower trap muscle, you can improve muscle strength. Working on your lower trap muscle will help you to prevent injury in the future as well as give you a more effective movement pattern in the shoulder. As a bonus, you’ll have the sexiest lower trap muscles this summer.
Rehabilitation physical therapy can be a safe and effective option for gaining more guidance on this topic. If you would like to learn more, or are experiencing pain in any of the areas mentioned, Ivy Rehab can help! Give us a call or request an appointment to discuss potential shoulder treatment options.
Article By: Stephen Hanano, SPT
Ivy Rehab, Hoboken, NJ