Trapezius Pain After Sleeping? Here’s How To Treat It

Do you often wake up with a stiff and sore trapezius muscle? Trapezius pain is a common issue associated with tension, tightness, and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

Poor posture, especially from prolonged periods spent hunched over a computer or smartphone, is a frequent cause of trapezius muscle pain. 

Storing tension and stress in the upper trapezius is also common, contributing to tightness, muscle strain, and trapezius pain. Fortunately, there are numerous effective options for treating trapezius muscle pain.

In this article, we’ll explore the causes of trapezius pain after sleeping and provide tips on relieving the discomfort.

What is Trapezius Pain?

Trapezius pain happens when the big muscle in your upper back gets tight or strained. This muscle helps with posture, moving your shoulder blades, and controlling your neck and shoulders.

When the trapezius muscle gets tense or strained, it can cause different types of pain. Some people feel a sharp ache right in the muscle, while others might feel a dull, throbbing discomfort that spreads to their neck, shoulders, or upper back.

In some cases, muscle spasms and tightness can press on nerves, causing throbbing headaches from the base of the skull up to the forehead.

Causes of Trapezius Pain

There are some common causes of trapezius pain. Poor posture, repetitive motions, and stress can all contribute to muscle tension and strain. Here’s an overview:

  1. Poor Posture Prolonged poor posture, like slouching at a desk, can tighten the trapezius muscles over time.

  2. Stress: Stress and anxiety can make us tense our upper traps, lifting the shoulders without us realizing. When we relax, we notice the shoulders dropping down.

  3. Overstretching: Overloading or overstretching the muscle, like lifting something heavy, can strain the trapezius.

Trapezius Muscle Pain Treatment

There are lots of ways to treat trapezius muscle pain:

1. Heat Pack

Using heat is a good way to help with trapezius pain. You can try a hot water bottle, a wheat bag, or a heat pad. Put it on the sore spot for 10-15 minutes. The warmth boosts blood flow, which helps heal and relax the muscles. Using heat before other treatments can make them work better.

2. Ice Pack

You can apply ice packs to the affected area for 15 minutes. The cold temperature helps numb the area and reduce inflammation.

3. Trapezius Stretches

Stretching exercises that specifically target the trapezius muscle can significantly alleviate pain. One effective stretch is as follows:

  • Stand up straight and pull your shoulders back.
  • Gently bend your head to the right until you feel a stretch in the left side of your neck.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

4. Trapezius Exercises

To strengthen your trapezius muscle and find long-term relief, I suggest these exercises:

  1. Shoulder shrugs: Hold weights in each hand and lift your shoulders toward your ears. Do several sets of this motion.
  2. Rows: Hold weights in each hand, pull your elbows back, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Repeat for multiple sets.

Try to do these exercises three times a week for the best results. Also, remember to give your muscles enough rest. If you’re working at a computer for long hours, take breaks every 20-30 minutes to do neck and shoulder exercises. This helps reduce stress and discomfort.

5. Massage

Massaging the affected area with essential oils has proven to relieve trapezius muscle pain, spasm and tension. Here’re the types of massages you can try. 

  • Swedish massage: This gentle form of massage employs long strokes and light pressure to relax the muscles.
  • Deep tissue massage: By using more pressure and slow strokes, this type of massage reaches the deep layers of muscle tissue, providing relief for chronic pain.
  • Trigger point massage: This therapy targets specific muscle knots that cause pain in the trapezius muscle.

6. Trigger Point Release

Trigger points in your upper and middle trapezius muscles often cause trapezius pain. Instead of rubbing or massaging them, a better way is to use steady pressure right on the trigger point.

Here’s how:

  • Use your thumb or knuckle to press directly onto the trigger point.
  • Slowly increase the pressure on that tight muscle.
  • Hold for about a minute. You’ll start feeling the knot loosen as the trigger point relaxes.

Sometimes these points need a few tries to release completely. If you can’t do it yourself, consider seeing a sports therapist for help.

7. Massage Ball

Using a ball for massage can really help ease trapezius pain caused by tight muscles or trigger points.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Stand with your back against a wall and place a ball (like a massage ball, lacrosse ball, etc.) on the spot that hurts in your trapezius.
  • Lean into the ball gently.
  • If your trapezius is often tight, try bending and straightening your legs or raising and lowering your arms to move the ball around and stretch the muscle.
  • Move the ball to target different areas where your trapezius hurts.

This is just a basic way to start. There are many other ways to use a ball to massage your trapezius and ease different types of pain in various positions.

8. Switch Bags

Carrying heavy bags can strain your trapezius muscles, especially if you carry them on one shoulder. Here’s how to lessen the strain:

  1. Lighten the Load: Only carry what you really need.
  2. Belt Bag: Try using a bag that wraps around your waist instead of hanging from your shoulders.
  3. Backpack: Use a backpack and wear it on both shoulders. If it has a waist strap, that’s even better. If your bag has one strap, switch shoulders often.
  4. Roller Bag: For larger loads, consider using a bag with wheels.

9. Adjust Your Workstation

To ease trapezius pain at your workstation, try these tips:

  1. Use a chair that supports your back and lets your feet touch the floor.
  2. Keep your computer screen at eye level to avoid straining your neck.
  3. Take breaks often to walk around and stretch. It helps relax your trapezius muscle.

10. Change Sleep Position

Sleeping on your stomach strains your neck and trapezius muscles because your head twists to the side. Try this instead:

  • Sleep on your side to relax your traps. One pillow under your head, keeping it in line with your spine, works best. Use a pillow between your legs and one behind you to stay in place.
  • Also, a supportive mattress can make a big difference.

Read more: Best Sleeping Positions for Neck Pain

11. Physical therapy

Physical therapy can ease pain and restore muscle function. The therapist will check what’s causing your pain and make a plan for you. You might do exercises, stretches, use ice or heat, and get massages as part of your treatment.

12. Surgery

Surgery might be needed if other treatments don’t help. It’s usually a last resort for trapped nerves in the muscle. If you have trapezius pain, get treatment early. Quick treatment can stop it from getting worse and causing more muscle damage.

Tips for Sleeping

Bad posture can cause a lot of trapezius, back, neck, and shoulder pain. Spending time fixing your posture is totally worth it. Here are some tips:

  • Try sleeping on your back or side instead of your stomach. This can ease pressure on the trapezius muscle.
  • If you’re used to sleeping on your stomach, placing a pillow under your pelvis can help tilt your hips and reduce pressure on your lower back and trapezius.
  • Use a pillow that keeps your neck and spine aligned properly.
  • Practice good posture during the day and include regular trapezius stretches in your routine.

When to See a Doctor

Most trapezius pain gets better with exercises, stretches, posture improvement, and massage. It might take a few weeks, especially if your trapezius is really tight or has spasms or trigger points. Keep at it.

If your trapezius pain comes with tingling or numbness in your arms or hands, or if it sticks around and affects your daily life, it’s time to see a doctor or physical therapist. You may make an appointment with our online pain management consultation

Need professional help to relieve chronic pain? Book an online consultation with physical therapist Dr. Olivia Patel.

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I'm Dr. Olivia Patel, a physical therapist specializing in helping people with neck, back, and knee pain. Instead of resorting to invasive treatments or surgeries, I use natural and non-invasive remedies to help my clients alleviate their agonizing pain and regain the joy of living a pain-free life. If you're interested in learning about my approach, click the button below to schedule a call with me.