The trapezius, the large muscle of the back, is responsible for moving the shoulders and neck and supporting the arms. Overuse -- through weightlifting or carrying heavy objects -- may lead to muscle strain or a partial tear of the trapezius muscle, which may be mild -- first-degree -- or moderate -- second-degree. Symptoms include pain and difficulty moving the shoulders and neck. Treatments include home remedies, physical therapy and medication.
Immediately after injury, the muscle should be rested. Lifting of objects should be avoided. Application of ice to the back will reduce inflammation at the site of muscle injury but will do little to relieve pain. After a few days, the muscle should be used to prevent loss of muscle mass. Early mobility of the muscle has been shown to lead to more rapid muscle healing and less scar tissue formation.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests several exercises to strengthen the trapezius after injury. Some examples include shrugging the shoulders, neck rotation, lateral arm raises with weights while lying on a table and the standing row, in which the patient pulls the elbows back while holding a fixed elastic band and squeezing the shoulder blades together. The use of rowing machines is also recommended. After physical therapy, deep massage is a useful technique to decrease scar tissue formation, prevent more injury and encourage muscle relaxation.
Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, have been shown to lead to a decrease in the inflammatory response that occurs with muscle tears. These can be obtained over the counter, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or may be prescribed by a doctor at higher doses. NSAIDs should primarily be used immediately after muscle injury, however. Long-term use of these over-the-counter medications may adversely affect muscle healing. Corticosteroids have been shown to be detrimental by delaying muscle repair and reducing the muscle strength.
Therapeutic ultrasound pulses high-frequency ultrasound waves into the muscle. Effects are believed to be due to heating of the tissues from the ultrasound wave and the creation of a micro-massage from the pulsating ultrasound waves. There is controversy about the usefulness of therapeutic ultrasound. It is possible that this technique may be helpful in reducing pain, but it seems to have no effect on muscle healing.
See a doctor for your trapezius injury if back pain worsens, continues for more than 48 hours or is severe. If significant swelling or bruising over the back or neck is present or if there is difficulty moving the arm or neck on the injured side compared to the uninjured side, you should also seek medical care.
- American Journal of Sports Medicine: Muscle Injuries: Biology and Treatment
- Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports: The Efficacy of Ice Massage in the Treatment of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage
- Physical Therapy: A Review of Therapeutic Ultrasound: Biophysical Effects
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: Sports Injuries
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: Terminology and Classification of Muscle Injuries in Sport: A Consensus Statement
- OrthoInfo: Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program