Physical Therapy for Trapezius Muscle Strain

Physical Therapy for Trapezius Muscle Strain

Most people don’t think about the trapezius until they struggle to raise their arms. The trapezius is a triangle-shaped muscle on each neck and shoulder pain. These muscles extend from the neck down to the spine and across your shoulder blade. The left and right trapezius support the arms whenever you raise your hands. A trapezius strain can feel sore and painful. It can also reduce your shoulders’ range of motion. Fortunately, physical therapy can help you overcome the trapezius pain and restore normal function. This is your complete physical therapy guide for trapezius pain.



What Causes Trapezius Strain?

The trapezius muscle plays a vital role in controlling many movements of your arm and shoulder. These muscles are heavily used to throw something or even move your head and neck. Unfortunately, you can develop a trapezius strain when the tendon overstretches or tears. Usually, trapezius strains occur due to overuse or repetitive tasks like carrying a heavy bag for many hours. Sports injuries, work, and auto accidents can also cause a trapezius muscle.

Trapezius muscle pain varies from mild to severe, depending on the severity of the injury. It is classified into grade I, grade II, and grade III. Grade I strain is mild, and only a few fibers are overstretched or torn.

On the other hand, grade II strain is moderate, and more fibers are stretched and torn. Grade III trapezius muscle strain is more severe and can result in loss of muscle function. 

Common symptoms of trapezius strains include:

  • Swelling
  • Cramping
  • Reduced muscle function
  • Popping sensations
  • An abnormal gap in the muscle outline
  • Muscle pain
  • Pain that gets worse when you move your shoulder

How to Prevent Trapezius Muscle Strain

Trapezius muscle strain is a common issue that can lead to significant discomfort, ranging from mild neck pain to severe shoulder blade discomfort. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and preventive measures is crucial for maintaining a healthy upper back and minimizing the risk of acute injuries.

Trapezius strain can result from poor posture, repetitive motions, or sudden movements, leading to muscle tears and pain. Symptoms of trapezius strain vary from mild muscle strain characterized by localized discomfort and limited mobility to more serious muscle tears causing severe pain and stiffness.

Preventive Measures

  1. Maintain Good Posture: Poor posture places undue stress on the trapezius muscles. Ensure your workspace is ergonomically set up, and practice sitting and standing with your shoulders, back, and head aligned with your spine.
  2. Stretch Regularly: Incorporate trapezius stretches into your routine to improve flexibility and reduce tension. Gently tilting your head to each side, and rolling your shoulders can help relieve tension in the upper trapezius.
  3. Avoid Overexertion: Gradually build up your exercise routine to prevent sudden strain on the muscles. Listen to your body, and if you feel any discomfort, take a break.
  4. Warm-Up and Cool Down: Before engaging in physical activities, perform a proper warm-up to prepare your muscles for action. Cooling down after exercise helps prevent muscle tightness.
  5. Strengthen Supporting Muscles: A balanced muscular structure helps distribute the workload evenly. Strengthening the muscles around your neck, shoulders, and upper back can provide added support to the trapezius.
  6. Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Proper hydration and nutrition contribute to muscle health and overall flexibility.
  7. Manage Stress: High-stress levels can lead to muscle tension. Incorporate stress-relief techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to keep tension at bay.

If you experience severe pain, limited range of motion, or suspect a pulled muscle due to an acute injury, consult a medical professional. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment, which may include rest, ice, pain relief, and physical therapy.

How does Physical Therapy for Trapezius Strain Work?

A therapist doing a therapy to the patient's shoulder

If you have a trapezius strain, it is best to apply the RICE treatment (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) right away. From there, you should seek the expertise of a qualified physical therapist. The physical therapist will ask you various questions, like how the trapezius strain occurred and whether you have ever developed a trapezius strain in the past. 

The PT will also check your medical history and conduct various measurements to determine muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility. You might also have to take an MRI or advanced imaging techniques if necessary.

The physical therapist will also focus on other affected areas that might have been overworked, including your lower back, the shoulder blade, the neck, and more. Your qualified physical therapist will develop a personalized treatment plan for your trapezius strain. This will help you get back to your everyday life as soon as possible.

Common physical therapy treatments for a trapezius strain include:

  • Pain management
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Muscle strengthening
  • Manual therapy
  • Patient education
  • Functional training
  • Assistive devices

Now, let’s discuss these physical therapy modalities for trapezius muscle strain in detail below.

✅Pain Management

The first physical therapy modality your doctor of physical therapy will likely use is pain relief therapy. Dealing with trapezius muscle pain is painful and can hinder your day-to-day activities. Luckily, physical therapy pain relief techniques can help you manage and even overcome the pain. One such modality is heat therapy. Your therapist will apply heat to the strained area to relax the muscles. Heat therapy can also improve blood circulation. Improving blood flow to the affected area will also reduce muscle stiffness and even promote your healing process. During your heat therapy appointment, your physical therapy provider will use a heating pad or warm towel on the strained muscle for 15-20 minutes.

Another pain management technique your doctor might use is massage. Gently massaging the strained trapezius muscle can reduce tension and promote relaxation. Moreover, gentle massages will improve blood flow.

Trying at-home pain relief techniques like non-prescription pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can also help. Alternatively, apply topical pain relief creams to create a cooling or warming sensation and lessen the discomfort.

✅Range of Motion Exercises

Besides pain management techniques, your doctor may also recommend various range of motion exercises to help you overcome your trapezius muscle strain. Embracing stretches and exercises can help improve your flexibility and strength. For instance, performing gentle neck stretches daily can help improve flexibility and relieve tension in your trapezius area. Another exercise that can help you deal with the pain is shoulder rolls. These exercises can help promote relaxation and release the tension in your trapezius muscles. Scapular squeezes can help you overcome the pain by improving posture and relaxing the muscles between your shoulder blades.

You can also use resistance band rows to strengthen your trapezius muscle and improve your shoulder’s stability. Alternatively, use wall angels to promote proper shoulder and upper back alignment. Wall angels can also help boost your shoulder flexibility. However, don’t try these exercises without consulting a licensed professional. Remember to use gentle and controlled movements to avoid worsening the pain even when you get the go-ahead to continue these exercises. Above all, stop and contact your physical therapy provider if you experience pain while performing these exercises.

✅Muscle Strengthening

Targeted muscle strengthening exercises can also help relieve the trapezius muscle strain and enhance its resilience. In addition, performing trapezius muscle strengthening exercises can also improve functionality and reduce the risk of re-injury. But before you get started with any muscle-strengthening workout, take the time to talk to your licensed specialist. Your specialists will assess your situation before creating a unique exercise program tailored to your injury, fitness levels, and goals. Usually, your doctor advises you to start with light resistance. From there, you can gradually increase the intensity as your trapezius muscle strengthens.

Some trapezius-specific exercises your doctor of physical therapy might recommend include:

  • Face pulls
  • Dumbbell exercises like bent-over rows and shoulder shrugs
  • Y-raises
  • Bodyweight exercises like push-ups and planks
  • Stability ball exercises like ball rollouts

It’s worth mentioning that it might take some time before you start seeing results. So, exercise consistency and patience when performing these trapezius muscle-strengthening exercises. Also, avoid pushing your body over the limit. Always give your muscles ample time to recover between each session. This will provide your trapezius muscle ample time to grow and repair itself.

✅Manual Therapy

Another physical therapy modality your doctor may recommend to help you deal with the trapezius muscle strain is manual therapy. Manual therapy can alleviate pain, improve mobility, and promote healing if done right. It works by targeting the tensed areas. During your manual therapy appointment, your trained healthcare professional will use their hands to mobilize and manipulate the soft tissues, joints, and muscles around the strained trapezius muscle.

This non-invasive physical therapy technique can help alleviate pain and improve overall comfort. It can also help enhance blood circulation and muscle mobility by targeting tensed-up areas. Moreover, physical therapy can also stimulate blood flow to reduce inflammation and promote quick healing. The good thing about manual therapy is that it’s ideal for any individual seeking immediate pain relief associated with trapezius muscle strain, regardless of their fitness levels. Additionally, manual therapy can be suitable for individuals recovering from surgery and requiring rehabilitation.

✅Patient Education

Patient education is an essential part of physical therapy for trapezius muscle strain. Understanding the root cause, symptoms, and proper self-care techniques can help you take control of your recovery. Moreover, it can help you take safety measures to prevent future trapezius strains and muscle sprains. Your physical therapy provider will educate you about the trapezius muscle’s function and anatomy. You will also learn about the common causes of trapezius muscle strains. Besides, expect your doctor to show you how to identify early signs and symptoms.

The doctor will also teach you the importance of maintaining good posture. Also, you will discover lifestyle habits that can cause trapezius strain. Above all, your doctor will also show you how to listen to your body, recognize when to modify activities, and seek professional help.

✅Assistive Devices

The physical therapy specialist you will consult may also recommend assistive devices to improve your day-to-day activities and alleviate the strain. Assistive devices are built to provide comfort and reduce the risk of further strain by helping you maintain proper posture. One such device is an ergonomic chair with adequate lumbar support and adjustable features. Such a chair can improve your posture and alleviate strain on the trapezius muscles while seated. 

Secondly, you can invest in orthopedic pillows to reduce the risk of worsening the strain while sleeping. Orthopedic pillows can help alleviate the pain and prevent injury by helping you maintain proper spinal alignment. Also, consider posture correctors and ergonomic keyboards and mouses. You can also purchase assistive reaching tools to perform activities that require picking up items from the floor or reaching overhead. If you travel regularly, consider supportive pillows or neck supports.

The multi-care team at La Clinica is ready to help you overcome your trapezius muscle strain as soon as possible. We will combine our expertise with innovative physical therapy tools to reduce pain, restore full functionality, and prevent re-injury. Talk to our qualified specialists today to discover how we can help.