Trapezius Muscle Sprain

by Anita Freeman

The trapezius muscle connects the shoulder with the neck and the upper spine. These two triangular shaped muscles form a diamond shape at the back of the neck and allow for the lateral movement of the neck and the shoulders. Any kind of over exertion or accidental trauma may cause an injury such as a muscle tear with symptoms such as stiffness, chronic pain and an inability to rotate either the neck or the shoulders.

Sprains and strains of the trapezius muscles result from the stretching and tearing of the tissues of the neck that include muscles, tendons and ligaments. These connect the bones of the neck to the shoulders. Mild strains are usually the result of over-stretched ligaments while the most severe sprains involve the tearing of the ligaments.

Trapezius muscle sprains and strains are most commonly caused by motor vehicle accidents and sports injuries but may also be caused by poor posture and underlying medical conditions such as arthritis. Other causes include:

  • Whiplash, usually caused by a rapid deceleration or a sudden stop that causes the head to snap forward rapidly and then back
  • A hard knock on the head
  • A strain on the upper back or shoulder
  • Sitting for long hours at a desk or computer work station

Symptoms of a trapezius muscle sprain include:

  • Pain in the neck and shoulder region that gets worse with movement
  • Muscle spasm, knots or stiffness in the neck and shoulder muscles
  • Difficulty in moving the head and the shoulders
  • Loss of strength in one or both of the arms
  • Tingling sensation in the arms
  • Persistent headache at the back of the head
  • Inability to sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate

Treatment for trapezius muscle sprains is similar to that for other types of sprains and follows the P-R-I-C-E principle.

Prevention (P) of movement of the affected area (in this case the neck region) is essential to allow the injured tendons and ligaments time to heal. Constant movement only aggravates the strain and will prevent it from healing. In severe cases, your doctor may advice you to use a neck brace to immobilize the neck.

Rest (R) is an essential part of the recovery process as it prevents further damage to the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the joint and facilitates the healing process. Avoid working or sitting for long periods of time.

Application of ice (I) to the neck and shoulders by way of ice packs or wrapping ice cubes in a plastic bag will help to reduce the swelling and the pain. This is due to the vaso-constricting effect of ice which constricts the blood vessels and thereby reduces the flow of blood to the affected area. The ice pack should be placed on the trapezius muscle for 20 minutes and the process repeated 4 to 5 times a day with at least a gap of 2 hours between applications.

Elevating (E) the injured muscle above the level of the heart will also help to reduce the swelling. While resting or sleeping ensure that your back is at an incline so that your head is always above the level of your heart.

In case of mild to moderate trapezius muscle sprains, your doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. These include ibuprofen and naproxen and will help to lessen the pain and reduce the swelling. In case you have had a severe sprain your doctor may prescribe oral steroids to lessen the pain and inflammation.

Your doctor may also recommend a series of neck exercises once the torn ligaments and tendons have healed. These exercises will help strengthen the trapezius muscle and prevent further injury. Massage therapy may help reduce tenderness in the trapezius muscle and acupuncture may be used as an alternative for relief from pain. Consult your doctor before trying any of these alternative therapies.


Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.
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