Trigger points are small "knots" found in tight muscles that are responsible for referring pain, as well as other symptoms, usually to areas away from themselves. Each muscle in the body has it's own trigger points which refer in a very specific pattern. Knowing these patterns and where to find the trigger points are the first step in relieving the symptoms they cause. Knowing what causes each trigger point to become active is an important factor in preventing their activation.
Upper Trapezius Muscle
The pain is generally felt on one side.
It travels up the back/side of the neck to the base of the skull.
When intense, it extends to the temple and behind the eye.
It may occasionally go to the angle of the jaw.
Activation and perpetuation of trigger points
1. Sudden trauma such as a fall or a car accident involving whiplash.
2. One leg shorter than the other. This throws the pelvis to the side, causing the spine to bow into a scoliosis curve, which in turn tilts the shoulders, causing one to sag. The upper trapezius then must work hard to try to keep the head and neck vertical and the eyes level. A hip or knee replacement is never the same size as the natural joint, therefore causing a permanent discrepancy in leg length.
3. Using a cane that is too high will cause the shoulder on the same side of the cane to raise up, thereby shortening the muscle.
4. A position or activity in which the trapezius must carry the weight of the arm for a prolonged period of time such as using a phone,working on a keyboard,playing a violin, or working on sewing material in the lap.
5. Pressure from a tight bra strap or purse.
6. Turning the head far to one side in a fixed position. This can occur while watching a tv that is set to the side instead of directly in front of you, when holding a conversation with someone who is to one side and sleeping in a side/stomach position, in which the head is fully rotated to one side.
7. Armrests that are too high.
Related trigger points
There are numerous muscles which can be involved with upper trapezius trigger points, and all must be treated in order to gain long lasting relief.
There may be vertebral dysfunctions caused by, or in addition to upper trapezius trigger points. It is important to treat both. Hypermobility of the C4 segment has been linked to the trapezius muscle.
All activities that cause and perpetuate trigger point activity must be stopped. In cases in which this is impossible, such as in required work activities/positions, methods must consistently be utilized to counteract the damage being done. Your therapist will be able to determine what methods are needed according to your specific case.
One of the biggest factors in upper trapezius trigger points is a round shoulder/forward head posture. This must be corrected for any long lasting relief to be achieved.