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Trapezius Muscle

Understand Your Traps and Why They Get Sore


Updated July 24, 2014

Muscles connecting the upper extremity to the vertebral column.
Mikael Häggström/Wikimedia Commons

Three Areas of the Trapezius Muscle:

The trapezius muscle is divided into 3 areas:

  • upper fibers
  • middle fibers
  • lower fibers.
The significance of this division lies in the variety of functions performed by this muscle.


Functions of the Trapezius Muscle:

The trapezius muscle has several functions:

  • to move the shoulder blade in toward the spine
  • to rotate the shoulder blade so that the topmost part of the upper arm faces up
  • to move the shoulder blade up and down
  • to bring the head and neck in a backward direction
  • to rotate and side bend the neck
  • to assist in breathing


The Effects of the Trapezius Muscle on the Neck:

Because the trapezius muscle works to move the neck in several directions, its degree of tightness or looseness affects neck flexibility. For people who work at desks and computers, or who spend many hours driving, the upper trapezius is the muscle on top of your shoulder that becomes very sore and painful.

The Trapezius Muscle as a Breathing Muscle:

The trapezius is an accessory breathing muscle. This means that it helps open up the small amount of breathing room in the upper chest area. For back and neck pain management, it is best not to rely on the trapezius alone, as this will produce shallow breathing. The most primary and powerful breathing muscle, the diaphram, also a muscle of posture, affects a large volume of breathing space all the way up and down the torso.

Massage For Tight Traps:

Although the trap muscles tend to get very tight for most people, they tend to respond well to massage. An added perk is that they are located such that you can reach your own. Try a self-massage on your trapezius muscle.


Kendall, Florence, McCreary, Elizabeth Kendall, Provance, Patricia Geise. Muscles Testing and Function 4th ed. Williams and Wilkins. Baltimore, Maryland, 1993.

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