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  • Writer's pictureNashville PT

Muscle Monday: Trapezius or "Trap"

The trapezius muscle is a large muscle on the shoulder, neck and back that is well known by

bodybuilders and Tom Hardy fans alike (shout out to Bane in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises).

Traps aren’t just for catching bears, it catches the eye if it’s well-developed and can catch a lot of knots, known as trigger points, in those who notice they carry stress in their neck and shoulders.

The trapezius muscle has 3 parts: upper, middle, and lower. The upper trap shrugs your shoulders up, the middle trap helps to pinch your shoulder blades back and the lower trap lowers your shoulder blade (which is one of the movements the shoulder blade does to return to it’s resting position after you’ve lowered your arm). Clearly it does a lot of work in your daily activities and can really put a strain on our life if it is having issues. It has a lot to do with normal function of your shoulder movement as you navigate your arm about your environment, so it’s important to know how to take care of it and keep it strong, yet well-balanced.

Since the trapezius attaches along the shoulder blade, and the shoulder blade contains the

socket to the ball-and-socket joint of your shoulder, improper functioning of the trapezius can alter the mechanics of your shoulder blade and therefore your shoulder joint. The trapezius also attaches along your spine, therefore dysfunction of the muscle can lead to a pain in the neck (literally).

What are some common causes of tightness, pain, and knots in the trapezius and why should you care?

A lot of us sit at a desk and work on a laptop or spend a lot of time looking down at our phones, or just sit/stand with poor posture. Having your shoulders hunched forward with your neck and upper back bent forward so much as you look at a computer can cause a strain and tightness along the trap muscle, as it’s being held in a strenuous stretch. Over time, this can leave the pectoral (chest) and trapezius tight, and weaken the muscles in the front of your neck and mid back. This is called Janda’s Proximal Crossed Syndrome. Your traps can often respond by getting very tender trigger points (knots) that can cause numbness and tingling, pain at rest or during activities, and movement restrictions.

Already experiencing this? Contact us for an assessment of your workspace (we even offer workplace wellness programs to help with this), manual therapy interventions and dry needling techniques to get rid of these painful trigger points!

Who usually has these issues?

Everyone from the dedicated office worker to an athlete who throws, climbs, bikes or lifts weights. Even those with psychological stress, infections and impaired sleep can experience trigger points in their traps. So basically, trapezius issues can affect pretty much everyone.

How can you best treat issues with your traps or prevent the development of trigger points?

To identify the true cause of your trapezius issue, you really need a full assessment of all of the muscles of your trunk, shoulder and neck, and someone to analyze your movement patterns. At Nashville Physical Therapy we can perform a Total Body Wellness Assessment in which we can identify any weak muscles, tight muscles, joint restrictions and movement pattern issues and then provide the specific exercises needed to address the true cause of your pain.

Trapezius joke: I asked my physical therapist how I can workout my traps…she just shrugged and walked away…

Here are some other facts about the trapezius:

· The upper trapezius attaches from the back of your skull and the nuchal ligament of your cervical spine (neck) to the outside 1/3 of your collarbone and the spine of your shoulder blade. The middle and lower portions of the trap attach from your neck to your thoracic spine (C7-T12). So you can see it spans from your head to nearly your lumbar spine - it’s a lot bigger than what you might think!!

· The trapezius is supplied by the Spinal Accessory nerve and if it were to be paralyzed, you would be greatly limited in lifting your arm out to the side.

· You can work out the upper trapezius fibers with long duration dumbbell/kettlebell/trap bar carries (60 seconds-2min).

· You can work out the middle trapezius fibers doing rows with straight elbows.

· You can work out the lower trapezius fibers is a Y-press at a 45 degree angle.

Don’t let this important and very busy muscle hold you…BACK…before it becomes a pain in the neck. See a PT immediately on ways to manage your shoulder, neck and back pain or for ways to better avoid developing issues in the first place. And if you are starting a new exercise program, contact us for a Total Body Wellness Assessment so we can identify any issues that might lead to injury of this muscle in the future.

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