Picture of a person with hand on their lower back

Upper Trap Pain

What is this condition? What causes this condition?

Upper trap pain is a tightness, stiffness or pain in the upper trap area. This issue can often be a symptom of an under lying condition. The upper trapezius muscle is a big fan shaped muscle from the neck to the scapula. The main cause of the condition is a sustain forward head leading posture putting load on the neck muscles, often people sitting at a desk job experience this. Due to desk jobs being more common in women, females are more likely to experience the condition (Hwang et al., 2017).

Common symptoms / signs

Common symptoms include pain onset, muscle spasms, muscle stiffness, headaches, tenderness in the area or tightness.
Common everyday activities that can bring on pain include stiffness in neck when working at a computer, headaches when driving, or when holding a baby there can be a shooting pain down the arm.

Risk factors of this condition?

o Significant trauma
o Repetitive movement
o Inactivity
o Poor posture
o Holding head forward too long
o Using shoulder to hold phone to ear
o Sitting in chair with lack of support
o Sitting at desk long periods

How is it treated?

Most commonly relief comes through exercises. Specific neck strengthening exercises can reduce pain and assist in prevention in the future. Examples of these exercises include shoulder shrugs, single arm rows, reverse flies and lateral raises.
Some evidence suggests the use of acupuncture, laser therapy or nerve stimulation therapies.

It is important to remind patients to keep shoulders low (increased gap between shoulder and ear) and relaxed throughout their day and especially when performing long and prolonged tasks, this will help to relax the muscles.

Other causes/differential diagnoses

It can be thought to be more serious including being cervical spondylosis, cervical osteoarthritis, rotator cuff issue or other shoulder pathologies. High stress levels can cause tension in the shoulder and ultimately lead to upper trap pain.


Hwang, U.-J., Kwon, O.-Y., Yi, C.-H., Jeon, H.-S., Weon, J.-H., & Ha, S.-M. (2017). Predictors of upper trapezius pain with myofascial trigger points in food service workers: The STROBE study. Medicine, 96(26), e7252. https://doi.org/10.1097/md.0000000000007252


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