Trapeze: Anatomy, Location, Structure, Function, Movements, Exercises and Associated Conditions

It is a large paired surface muscle that extends longitudinally from the occipital bone to the lower thoracic vertebrae of the spine.

It also extends laterally to the spinal column of the scapula. Move the scapula and hold the arm.

The trapeze has three functional parts:

  • An upper part (descending) that supports the weight of the arm.
  • A middle region (transverse) retracts the scapula.
  • A lower part (ascending) rotates medially and depresses the scapula.

Anatomy of the trapezius muscle

The trapezius muscle is one of the main muscles found in the upper part of the back and on each side of the spine.

It is considered a large surface muscle that extends from the skull’s occipital bone to the lower thoracic vertebrae of the spine. The trapezius muscle is responsible for moving, turning, and stabilizing the shoulder blade (scapula).

The trapezius muscle can be divided into three bands of muscle fibers, all of which have different structures and functions. Everyone works together to support the movement of the shoulder blade and spine.

Superior fibers: located on the posterior and lateral sides of the neck work to elevate the scapula, which allows us to perform movements such as shrugging shoulders.


Intermediate fibers: located along the upper thoracic vertebrae that are inserted in the process of the acromion of the scapula. The threads of the medium work by retracting and adducing the shoulder blade, bringing it closer to the spine.

Lower Fibers: covers a vast region of the posterior stem from its origins in the lower thoracic vertebrae to the spine of the scapula. The lower fibers work to depress the shoulder blade by pulling it closer to the lower thoracic vertebrae.


The trapezius muscle extends from the occipital bone (located at the base of the skull) to the middle of the back. This muscle is divided into three parts or sections, which include:

  • Upper section: located on the back of the neck.
  • Midsection: located on the shoulders and upper back.
  • Bottom section: located in the middle of the back.


The trapezius muscle resembles a diamond-shaped trapezoid or quadrilateral. The word “spinotrapezius” refers to the human trapeze, although it is not commonly used in modern texts. In other mammals, it relates to a portion of the analog muscle.

The superior (or descending) fibers of the trapezius originate in the spinous process of C7, the external occipital protuberance, and the middle third of the excellent nuchal line of the occipital bone (both in the back of the head) and the Nuchae ligament.

The middle fibers, or transverse fibers of the trapezius, arise from the spinous process of the seventh cervical bone (both in the back of the neck) and the spinous methods of the first, second, and third thoracic vertebrae.

The trapezius’s inferior (or ascending) fibers arise from the spinous processes of the remaining thoracic vertebrae (T4-T12). The superficial and deep epimysium is continuous with a deep fascia surrounding the neck and contains both sternocleidomastoid muscles.

It is possible to feel that the muscles of the upper trapezius are activated by holding a weight in one hand in front of the body and, with the other hand, touching the area between the shoulder and the neck.


The accessory rib supplies the function of the motor. The sensation, including pain and the sense of joint position (proprioception), travels through the ventral branches of the third (C3) and fourth (C4) cervical nerves.

Since it is a muscle of the upper extremity, the trapezius is not innervated by the dorsal branch despite being placed superficially in the back.


The contraction of the trapezius muscle can have two effects: the movement of the scapulae when the origins of the spinal cord are stable and the direction of the spine when the scapulae are stable. Its primary function is to stabilize and move the scapula.

The function of the trapezius muscle depends on which section of the power is functioning. The functions of this muscle include:

  • Upper: Raises the scapula (shoulder blades), which is the movement of shrugging the shoulders. Extends the neck, which is the movement of bending the neck backward.
  • Medium: adducts the scapula, which is the movement of retraction or pinching of the shoulder blades.
  • Lower: low or depressed scapula.

In addition, these three sections of the trapezius muscle work together to stabilize the scapula. For example, when you carry many grocery bags from your car to your kitchen, all areas of the trapezius muscle contract to stabilize the scapula or shoulder blades.

Does the trapezius muscle work properly?

To find out, try this quick physical assessment:

  • Stand straight with your arms hanging naturally at your sides.
  • Shrink your shoulders to your ears and then go back down.
  • Pinch the shoulder blades together.
  • Now, look up, tilting your head around.

Could you do the four steps? If so, it seems that your trapezius muscle, one of the largest back muscles, works well!

Scapular movements

The upper and lower fibers tend to rotate the scapula around the sternoclavicular joint so that the acromion and lower angles move upward and the medial border moves downward. This rotation is opposite to that produced by the levator scapulae and the rhomboids.

The fibers of the middle retract the scapula.

The upper and lower trapezius fibers also work with the anterior serratus to rotate the scapulae upwards during a heat press.

When activated together, the upper and lower fibers also help the middle fibers (along with other muscles such as the rhomboids) with scapular retraction/adduction.

Spinal movements

When the scapulae are stable, a co-contraction on both sides can extend the neck.


The upper portion of the trapezius can be developed by elevating the shoulders.

The middle fibers are developed by joining the shoulder blades. This adduction also uses the upper / lower fibers.

The lower part can be developed by stretching the shoulder blades downwards while keeping the arms almost straight and rigid. It is mainly used for throwing with the deltoid muscles.

Muscle imbalances, which can significantly affect posture and compromise shoulder health, can result if the three sections of the trapezius do not develop equally.

Many bodybuilders, including the eight-time Mr. Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman, perform a maneuver known as “slap trap” (short for trapezoidal slap) before attempting to lift hefty weights.

This technique implies that an observer hits the upper part of the back of the lifter with the desired effect of mentally preparing the recipient for his next lift.

Variants of the latissimus dorsi include “last slap,” performed if the trapezius is not accessible to the observer (that is, during a squat).


Because this muscle is not developed healthily for some people, it can easily cause problems such as muscle tensions, especially in the descending part. In severe cases, these could cause cervical spine syndrome.

How to treat trapezius muscle pain

Trapezius muscle pain is often described as acute or chronic pain that affects several small muscles in the upper back and neck. Pain in this area usually begins and remains in the place of ​​the trapezius.

It is believed that the trapezoidal strains that cause pain are due to repetitive stresses or stress injuries, similar to those that occur when carrying light loads or when you have specific unnatural postures, such as reclining on a computer keyboard for long hours.

It is believed that trigger points of trapezius muscle pain are the leading cause of pain in the neck and upper back. Acute forms of injury such as whiplash can also cause pain in the trapezius muscles.

What causes trapezius muscle pain?

Muscles pulled: occurs when a force has moved too far and too fast, resulting in an injury. Because the connection between the muscles has been cut off, resulting in pain and decreased range of motion.

Stress: Being stressed can manifest itself at a point where the muscles tense or tense, particularly in the trapezius muscles.

This is mainly caused by excess muscle contraction, which produces muscle pain. These symptoms may also be aggravated by mental tension and anxiety that often accompany stressful periods.

Bad posture: sitting or standing incorrectly can cause pain in the trapezius muscles, among other types of problems that affect the vertebrae of the spine and support muscles. If bad posture is not corrected initially, it can become permanent.

Pressure: intense or tight tension in the trapezius that causes stress in the muscle can cause pain. This can be induced by heavy backpacks, shoulder bags, or even tight fastener straps.

Maintenance positions: Maintaining uncomfortable standing or sitting can cause muscle pain in the trapezius muscle. This can also be referred to as a repetitive stress injury.

Traumatic injury: Trapezius muscle pain can occur due to acute injuries such as whiplash or direct head injury (head forcedly snapped back and then pulls the trapezius muscle).

Symptoms of trapezoidal distension

The main symptom experienced by patients with trapezoidal distension is the pain that can be felt in all areas of the back that innervates the trapezius muscle. The pain is aggravated when the arms are used for any activity since they are connected to the shoulder blade, which reduces the range of movement.

Symptoms of trapezius muscle pain usually include:

  • Pain/stiffness in the neck.
  • Shoulder pain / stiffness.
  • Weakness of the arm
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Later headaches
  • Difficulties of concentration
  • Intrascapular area pain.
  • Difficult to sleep.
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks that require arm movement.
  • Heat over the area.
  • Swelling of the affected area
  • Muscle spasms.


When you see a doctor for your undiagnosed trapezoidal distension, you will be asked where your pain feels, what makes it worse and what improves it. This will give the doctor a better idea of ​​where the pain is.

A brief medical history and medication list will also be taken to rule out any underlying cause.

The most obvious reason for a trapezius strain is an injury. You must tell your doctor if you practice any sport or perform any task at work that could have caused trapezius muscle pain symptoms.

The next one will be the physical examination. Your doctor will inspect the area for signs of bruising on your upper back and ask you to move your arms and shoulders to see precisely how the trapezius muscle pain occurs and what areas of your upper back show tightness and sensitivity.

Other evaluations will evaluate the function of the cranial nerve, including the sensation of light touch and a prick. Muscle stretch reflexes and strength tests will also be measured.

If the progressive pain in the neck and shoulder is not accompanied by other signs and symptoms of an underlying medical condition, specific tests, such as an MRI, are not required.

Trapeze muscle pain treatment

Rest: Constantly putting stress on your muscles will make it difficult for the recovery process. Not taking the time to rest can worsen musculoskeletal pain.

Ice: This can be done by simply applying ice to the affected area to help reduce pain and swelling. Using an ice pack is ideal, but ice cubes on a towel or a bag of frozen vegetables will also do the trick.

It is recommended to freeze the affected part of the body for approximately 15 to 20 minutes every two to four hours.

Heat treatment: the heat of hot showers or a hot towel can do wonders to relieve muscle tension. This can also extend to wearing warm clothes during cold days if you are especially sensitive to changes in temperature.

The heat can also increase the healing process and reduce pain. You can also use heat pads, which can be purchased at the store or prepared by filling a sock or small bag with rice and heating in the microwave for two minutes.

Epsom salt: a common element added to warm baths, Epsom salt can also help relieve muscle pain. This is thanks to its high magnesium content, which allows the relaxation of muscles and aches.

Add one or two cups of Epsom salt to your bath and soak the affected joint or the entire body for at least 30 minutes. It is recommended to take baths up to three times a week until your sore muscle has healed.

Modification of the activity: limiting strenuous activities and obtaining an adequate amount of rest can help.

Learning to maintain a better posture, such as sitting with your back straight while at your desk or taking frequent breaks when sitting, can help relieve symptoms.

A good rule of thumb is to make sure you can pass your hand through the opening in your lower back when you are sitting or standing upright.

Medications for pain: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be a valuable supplement to reduce pain and inflammation further.

Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and many others that are the strength of prescription. It is essential to follow the doctor’s instructions when using these medications, as they can also have side effects.

Massages to relieve trapezius muscle pain:

Trapezius muscle strains are likely to form tender knots or trigger points that cause pain and discomfort but can be easily remedied by applying pressure through massage.

It is advised to use good judgment when performing any massage, do not press too much. The focus areas should be the shoulders, neck, and areas of the thoracic spine. The following are some massage techniques that you can try today:

Tennis ball: a firm object such as a tennis ball can be placed between the trapeze and a hard surface, like the floor, and can roll back and forth. Concentrate on the area of ​​pain while performing this type of massage.

Lying down: simply lying on your side can help relax the trapezius muscle. Keeping a pillow under the head to support the neck and keep it aligned with the spine is recommended.

You can also back up with your hand and knead the painful area with your fingers.

Use a massage tool: there are many tools and massage devices to help you reach difficult areas such as your back.

Depending on your preference, you may prefer an electronic device for your trapezius muscle pain massage, but manual options may also help.

Exercises for trapezius muscle strain:

Like other muscles of the body, the trapezius can stretch and exercise to help relieve pain and stress. The following are some of the most effective exercises for trapezius muscle pain:

Shrugging: considered one of the most effective exercises to relieve trapezius muscle pain, it can be done by simply lifting the shoulders towards the ears, squeezing, and holding / releasing. You can also add weights to each hand to increase the stretch.

Vertical rows: start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and supporting a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs while holding them. Now, lift the weights in front of you at shoulder level, then gently lower them again.

Shoulder roll: Stand with your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart, then start rolling the shoulders up and forward in a circular motion.

The rotation should be done slowly and controlled. You can also perform this exercise in reverse.

Yoga Neck Stretch: While standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides, raise your right arm and gently push your head to the left until you feel a stretch.

Now repeat on the opposite side. Once both sides are completed, place both hands on the back of your head and push gently forward, feeling a stretch in the neck and down the back.

Hold each stretch for approximately 20 to 30 seconds before releasing.