The trapezius is a large band of muscles that spans the upper back, shoulders, and neck. You may develop trigger points along the bands of the trapezius. These are raised parts of the muscle that can be painful.

Trigger points can develop for many reasons, including from exercise, inactivity, or working for prolonged periods with a poor posture or with your head down.

This article will explore trapezius trigger points (TTP) and how you can treat them to eliminate muscle pain.

Trigger points are raised spots along a band of muscle. They’re one of the most common long-term muscle disorders and can affect anyone.

TTP occur in the trapezius muscle. This is a very large back muscle that extends from below your shoulder blades, up to your shoulders, and then along the back of your neck.

You may be able to feel the raised spots in your muscle. They may feel like a knot in your upper back, shoulder, or neck. The trigger points may feel especially painful when touched, and the pain may radiate beyond the immediate area.

There are two types of trigger points: active and latent. Active trigger points hurt when you move. Latent trigger points only hurt when someone applies pressure along the raised part of the muscle.

TTP occur for many reasons. Some of the causes include:

  • trauma
  • repetitive movement
  • playing sports or engaging in physical activity
  • inactivity
  • poor posture
  • holding your head forward for too long
  • using your shoulder to hold your phone to your ear
  • sitting in a chair without proper back support or armrests
  • moving heavy objects using poor lifting techniques
  • carrying heavy purses, backpacks, or bags on one shoulder
  • having a vitamin deficiency
  • not getting enough sleep
  • having a preexisting condition in your joints

Trigger points can cause pain as well as limitations in how you move your muscles. You may notice that the pain is close to the site of the trigger point, or that it radiates throughout your muscle.

You may also experience TTP symptoms beyond your muscles, perhaps in the form of:

  • a headache
  • ear ringing
  • jaw pain
  • neck tilting

TTP can occur in the back of the neck, along the tops of the shoulders, and in a few spots along the shoulder blades.

You may experience trigger point pain in other muscles. For example, trigger points can also occur in the chest, the front of the neck, near the elbows, and near the fronts and backs of the knees.

You may want to see a doctor about TTP if you notice the pain getting worse or if it affects your daily life or ability to engage in activities like sports or regular exercise.

Soreness or pain in your neck, shoulders, or upper back may limit your ability to complete tasks at your job, sleep well, or feel comfortable.

Your doctor will perform an examination to diagnose TTP. They’ll ask about your health history and conduct a physical exam.

This exam will look for changes to your trapezius muscle, such as:

  • tightness
  • the presence of a nodule
  • twitching

Your doctor will also ask you about the type of pain you experience.

There are several methods for treating TTP. These include medications as well as lifestyle changes and alternative treatments.

A doctor may recommend that you experiment with a combination of approaches to help manage the condition. The sections below will discuss some of these approaches.

Medications

A doctor may recommend an oral pain reliever, a muscle relaxer, or a sleeping medication to help combat pain from TTP. If these medications don’t help, your doctor could also recommend a local anesthetic or even a steroid injection.

Lifestyle adjustments

There are several methods you can try at home to reduce TTP pain and discomfort.

One simple way to help relieve TTP pain is to apply heat or ice to the affected area.

It may also be useful to refrain from regular athletic activities or modify your exercise plan to rest the trapezius muscle for a few days or weeks.

Stretching and making modifications to your daily activities may also help treat discomfort and pain. For example, one study found that doing isometric neck exercises three times per day for 15 days, as well as maintaining a better posture, marginally improved discomfort from TTP.

Exercises included:

  • circling the shoulders
  • extending and bending the neck
  • rotating the neck

There are many exercises you can try to stretch the trapezius.

Some methods to improve posture included avoiding rubber pillows, sitting in chairs with good back support and proper armrests, and sitting upright while working on a computer. You can also try these 12 exercises.

The study also recommended that participants get up from their desks every 20 to 30 minutes to stretch and walk around.

Alternative and complementary treatments

There are several alternative treatment methods you can explore to treat TTP. If you use these methods in combination with pain medications or other treatments from your doctor, they are considered complementary treatments.

Some alternative treatments include:

Manual pressure release

One type of massage that may help relieve TTP is known as manual pressure release. This massage technique uses the thumb or tip of the finger to apply pressure to a trigger point. This is thought to lengthen the muscle and help relieve tightness and pain.

Ischemic compression

Another type of massage is ischemic compression. A professional therapist can apply pressure to the trigger points using an instrument made of wood, plastic, or rubber.

This will apply direct vertical pressure to the trigger point. One study found that even a single session of this therapy helped alleviate trigger point pain in professional basketball players.

Cupping

Cupping is another alternative treatment that may alleviate TTP pain and discomfort.

This practice originated in China thousands of years ago. There are two techniques: wet and dry cupping. A practitioner uses cups that suction to the body to apply pressure on acupuncture points and change blood flow.

Keep in mind that alternative therapies are approaches that fall outside traditional medical practice.

Talk to a doctor about these methods before trying anything, as some of these therapies may pose a risk to your health. Also, make sure you seek services from licensed professionals to ensure that you’re receiving quality care.

Pain in your neck, shoulders, and back may be caused by TTP. There are many ways to treat this condition. For example, a doctor may recommend a combination of medications, lifestyle adjustments, and alternative treatments.

Be sure to discuss any potential problems that may occur from TTP treatment with your doctor.