The Trapezius muscles in the upper back can be painful.

Do you have a muscle spasm in your trapezius muscle?  Here’s some background:

Muscle spasm is a contraction.  Your muscle has tightened up and doesn’t feel good.  Muscle contraction in the upper back is very often caused by over-stretching the muscles.  Read more to discover why.

In this picture the trapezius muscle is shown on the right side of the back.  There is one that matches on the left side but it is cut away.

You can see the shoulder blades and where the muscles attach.  All muscles attach to bones and that is how we are able to move.

The muscle that goes from the shoulder blade to the spine on the left side of the back is the rhomboid.  You have a matching one on the other side of the back hidden by the trapezius muscle.

Rhomboids get blamed for upper back muscle spasm all the time.  But they are not usually the problem.

Tennis Ball Therapy, heat or cold therapy or massage can often get rid of the muscle spasm (“knots”) in your trapezius.

But not always.

Sometimes you have to look for the cause of the spasm in the trapezius.  It could be from tight muscles in the front of your body or arms that are pulling you forward.  That causes the muscles in the back to be stretched a little much.  Then they go into a type of contraction as a way of complaining.

Or it could be from muscles on the sides of your neck.

You see, bodies are logical but things are not always what they seem.  Just blasting away on the muscle spasm may not make it go away.  Sometimes there are other areas that you weren’t aware of that can cause the muscle spasm in your trap.

By the way, once when I called it the “trap” for short a client asked, “Is it called the trap because it traps things?”  No, but that was a very good question!  🙂

You can see another view of the trapezius muscles and painful areas caused by trigger points <– by clicking that link.  That article has additional information about ways to get rid of muscle spasm in the trapezius.


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8 Comments on Trapezius Muscle Spasm In Your Upper Back? Or Rhomboid Muscle Spasm?

  1. Brennen says:

    I was working out with battle ropes, had a normal workout woke up the next day and had a bad knot on my trap. After a few weeks it turned into a dull pain across my shoulders with constant (Knot’s) spasms and I have pain in both upper arms and can not throw . Its been 1yr. and Iam in a lot of pain.I have been to a chiropractor and physical therapy. My orthopedist said it is muscular what do you think?…MRI

  2. Hi Brennen,

    I’m thinking it’s the muscles on the sides of your neck–the scalenes. They cause knots in your upper back. May be from your workout or maybe you just slept crooked that night.

    You see, when one muscle starts contracting, it pulls the other muscles around it into contraction, too. The muscles on the other side of the body also get involved. I’m thinking also that your pectoral muscles are involved. Could be your lats, too.

    I don’t know what the Physical Therapist helped you do or found. If you’d like to give me more specifics about exactly where you hurt, I may be able to come up with more ideas for the muscles that need to be treated.

    If you can find a St. John Neuromuscular Massage Therapist or St. John Neurosomatic Massage Therapist, that person will look for the causes of your pain (not just treat the muscles that hurt as many massage practitioners do.)

    When the tests don’t show anything and the doctor says it’s muscular, that’s good news! Why? Because muscles can be treated. You just need someone to help who knows how bodies work and what to do.

    If you’d rather have a great self-help book than find a massage therapist, The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Claire Davies is a terrific self-help book. It’s easy to understand and to do. You may be able to get it from the library but it’s worth having in your own library for reference.

    Thank you for writing to me about the knots in your back and the pain in your upper arms. I’m looking forward to you feeling better soon.

    The Pain Relief Coach

  3. Andrea says:

    I am wondering if I’m having problems with my trapezium muscle. I’m in constant pain in my left shoulder which consists of a searing burning sensation when i move abruptly which can last for 4-6mins at a time. The muscle always feels tight and I get a sensation that the only way to describe it is as if I have got running water under the skin of my shoulder. I live in Egypt and cannot get a diagnosis from the doctors they just keep saying its a cramp, but ive had cramp and this does not feel anything like a cramp. Its making me depressed because I cant sleep for fear of aggrevating the situation. Any advice you can give me would be be helpful Thank you

  4. Kathy says:

    I have been having severe pain in my traps which also causes a bad headache ( back of head) and is accompanied with nausea. This happens when I use my arms to much such as lifting, pushing, pulling, and repeated motion like scrubbing , painting etc. At times these episodes last for days and are debilitating. Physical therapy seems to be exactly what causes my pain as well as just doing my housework . I’ve Doctored with this for 12 years and it’s only getting worse. Praying for help !!

  5. Andrea, I am so sorry that I just found your question. My best long-distance thought is that the muscle is being over-stretched. The muscles on the RIGHT side of your body are tight and are pulling the LEFT side of your neck/shoulder/trap and causing it to have pain. The muscles on the right could be shortened due to scoliosis (curvature of the spine) or habit (you always lean or sleep in one direction, causing muscles to shorten on one side and be strained on the left upper side.)

    It is most likely pain caused by straining (overstretching) the muscles. That causes the muscle to become tight (a spasm or cramp) but it’s not because the muscle IS tight on it’s own. It’s because it is trying to correct being stretched too much.

    Alternatively, it could be in spasm because of some habitual movement that you make (propping your chin on your hand at the computer?) In that case, stop the habitual activity and use heat, cold, and massage to relax the tight muscle.

    Heat, cold and massage of that area won’t help if the cause is overstretch, however.

    Again, I am so sorry that I didn’t find your message earlier and I hope that you are already feeling better.

    The Pain Relief Coach

  6. Hi Kathy, I apologize that I just now found your message!

    It sounds like you have a ‘fussy neck.’ I do, too, so I am totally sympathetic. It also sounds like migraine headaches. When your head is in ‘out of neutral’ positions (like looking up) the muscles around your neck and the nerves in your neck and shoulder area are getting aggravated.

    Discontinue the physical therapy and if possible any other activity that causes your head pain. Cold packs (ice) are the best medicine for muscles and nerves in the neck. Twenty minutes off and on. The cold will make your muscles and soft tissue cold and stiff so don’t try to do any stretches when the muscles are cold. Stretches won’t help much, anyway. I like to use the cold packs when I am laying down in the most neutral, comfortable position I can find.

    Heat packs on the tops of your shoulders and upper back will help relax the traps. At this time, the best solution for your headaches may be not to do things that cause the pain.

    Your head pain can even be caused by sitting in a chair or car seat that forces your head to tilt with your chin up or down.

    When the muscles around your shoulders and neck get unhappy, they cause head pain. Poor posture (forward head posture with rounded forward shoulders) makes it even worse.

    I wrote a simple to read, easy to use book Head Pain Natural Relief which is at Amazon in Kindle and soft cover versions. I made it short and sweet with good illustrations so that people with head pain can figure out the causes of their pain and take natural steps to get rid of the causes.

    It’s much easier to avoid headaches than to treat them.

    I hope this helps, Kathy, and that you start to feel better quickly. I know how frustrating bad headaches are because I had them for years. I believe the book can help. Holler if you need more thoughts.

    Thank you,

    Kathryn Merrow
    The Pain Relief Coach

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Hi Kathryn,
    My left upper Trapezius muscle is almost always tight. A doctor I work with said it’s like my left shoulder is higher than my right, probably because I’m compensating for the pain. The muscle aches continously and sometimes it feels like it’s burning. I’m a maintenance man and do repetitive and a lot of overhead work sometime. The pain is unbearable sometimes. I’ve had this issue for the past 3 years. Sometimes the trapezius is so tight it’s hard to turn my head. Any thoughts?

  8. Hi Jeffrey, I’m not getting comments for some reason so apologize for my delay in responding. Your left shoulder is higher than the right because the right is lower! 🙂 If one side of the body is higher, the other has to be lower. It just has to be because bodies are logical. Something on your right side is pulling that shoulder down. It could be your chest or rib muscles or the muscles along your spine on that side.

    Stretch the muscles on the right side of your body 4 times as much as the left side. Stretch up to the ceiling. Try to open up the right side of your body.

    Now, it could be because you have one short leg or one half of your pelvis is smaller than the other. It could even be one flat foot. But stretching the right side muscles is a good place to start.

    The muscles on the left upper trap are tight and burning because it is being over-stretched. The burning sensation is caused by the over-stretch. The muscle is complaining.

    If you were to go to a massage therapist, you would ask him or her to relax the muscles on the right side of your back and chest to help you straighten up. You might also ask them if they can figure out why you are tilting. Some can figure it out, some can’t. I hope this helps.

    I have had the same burning and high left trapezius from my own scoliosis so I know exactly how you are feeling.

    Take care,

    Kathryn Merrow
    The Pain Relief Coach