How to Relieve and Prevent Spasms of the Trapezius Muscle

If you've ever shrugged your shoulders, you've put your trapezius muscles to work. The muscles located in the back of the head and extending down to the shoulders, play an important role in upper-body movement.

A trapezius spasm is often caused by a strain due to injury or overuse. (Image: microgen/iStock/GettyImages)

But like all muscles in the body, they're susceptible to overuse and injury, which can cause pain or spasms. Fortunately, there are exercises that can both alleviate and prevent pain, as well as methods to immediately ease discomfort.

What Is the Trapezius Muscle?

The trapezius muscle stretches from the back of the head and neck to the shoulders. It's made up of the upper trapezius, middle trapezius and lower trapezius.

This muscle works as a posture stabilizer and in movement, to lift your shoulders or pull them back and to tilt, turn and extend your neck.

Trapezius Myalgia Causes

One possible cause of trapezius pain and spasms could be trapezius myalgia, an ache or tightness in the trapezius muscle. Symptoms include muscle stiffness and spasms, as well as the sudden onset of pain and tenderness of the upper trapezius area.

Certain people are more at risk of experiencing trapezius myalgia. People with sedentary jobs, poor posture, high work demands, stress and low activity levels outside of work, are more prone to trapezius pain, which can be alleviated with exercises.

Trapezius Myalgia/Strain Preventive Exercises

A strain can occur when fibers in the muscle or tendon stretch beyond their capacity due to overuse or injury. One of the best ways to prevent or alleviate a strain is with exercises, such as neck bends or scapula settings.

Neck bends: Look straight ahead with your shoulders relaxed. While lowering your right shoulder, bend your neck to the left, as if you're trying to touch your left ear to your left shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

Scapula settings: Lie on your stomach. You can use a pillow or towel underneath your forehead to help you relax. With your arms flat at your sides, pull your shoulder blades together and back as far as you can go. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Shoulder shrugs: Stand tall and hold dumbbells to the side in each hand. Elevate the shoulders while focusing on contracting the upper trapezius muscle.

Trapezius Spasm Relief

Trapezius spasms may be due to a trapezius strain, which can be treated in a number of ways, such as resting and applying ice to the painful area. To reduce swelling, a doctor might compress the trapezius by wrapping your shoulder.

Another option for trapezius spasm relief is to use kinesiology tape, a stretchy elastic tape that goes on the skin over an injured muscle.

Recovery depends on how seriously the muscle is strained and how well it's taken care of after the spasms have been detected. A mild strain will take two or three weeks to recover, whereas a more serious injury could take a couple of months.

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