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Got a Bad Trap? Try a Trapezius Tear Test!

Falling victim to a trapezius strain (or tear) is no walk in the park. Not only are your traps involved in multiple upper body movements, but when there is discomfort at rest, it simply can’t be ignored. 

Not taking proper precautions during exercise or the necessary time for recovery can put you at risk for injury - with strain perceived to be at one end of the spectrum and muscle tears at the other. Not sure if you have injured your traps? Let’s explore some trapezius tear tests.

Trapezius Tear Test: Try Some Tests at Home

What you are looking for is any discomfort during these tests. The presence of pain, limited range of motion, and any resistance or imbalanced (asymmetrical) movements can be some indications of a strain/tear. 

Right off the bat, do a visual inspection: Any discolorations? Bruising or redness?

Rotate, extend, and tilt your neck. Also, try to do so with resistance - having someone’s hand placed there as resistance for example. (Not having any limited range of motion and being able to move even with resistance is normal).    

Upper Trapezius Manual Muscle Test 

  • Shrug your shoulders: with and without resistance if possible. 
  • Have someone place their hands with firm pressure on your shoulders and try to shrug.
  • Check for a balance of strength and any discomfort while doing so.  
Middle Trapezius Manual Muscle Test 
  • Lie down on your stomach (prone)
  • Flex your elbow 90 degrees and retract your scapula 
  • Firm pressure is applied to the scapula (middle) while you resist 

 Lower Trapezius Manual Muscle Test 

  • Lie down on your stomach (prone)
  • Raise your arms/shoulders to 120-130 degrees from the body 
  • Retract your scapula as if trying to pinch them together
  • Firm pressure is

These manual muscle tests are typically performed by a licensed professional such as a chiropractor or physical therapist who would be able to accurately assess your strength and function during these movements. Having any pain or weakness with resistance can be a red flag to get checked.

There is a wide range of manual muscle tests for different muscles, however, if you’re doing this at home, recognize that it may require a medical perspective for accurate diagnosis. Their training allows for proper hand placement when doing tests that require resistance or manual manipulation. 

Trapezius Tear Test: Trapezius Muscle Anatomy

It has been a while since 3rd grade geometry - do you remember learning about the trapezoid? The trapezius muscle gets its name from this shape.  This back muscle is large, superficial, and is located on the back portion of our necks and thorax. 

trapezius tear test trapezius anatomy

Whenever you shrug… it’s your traps. 

Turning your head… traps. 

Upper body posture support… you guessed it, your trapezius is working for you.

With shoulder movements especially, the trapezius muscles assist with moving your shoulder blades - lifting, lowering, retracting, and rotating (scapular rotation).

Supporting our upper bodies, our trapezius muscles play a role in helping to keep our spines straight when standing. 

Additionally, as it stabilizes the neck, it also stabilizes the shoulder blade when doing arm movements. It wouldn’t take a serious athlete to notice when something has gone wrong with their traps - we all use them quite extensively in our daily activities. 

Trapezius Tear Test: Strain vs. Tear

If it has ever crossed your mind, yes there can be a difference between strain and tear. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “Muscle strain presents one of the most frequently used terms to describe athletic muscle injury, but this term is still without clear definition and used with high variability.” [1] 

This same study reports a grading system for muscle injury based on clinical signs and ranges from Grade 1 to 3. 

  • Grade 1: No appreciable tissue tear
  • Grade 2:  Tissue damage and reduced strength of the musculotendinous unit
  • Grade 3: Complete tear of musculotendinous unit and complete loss of function [1] 

    Difference in Terminology

    If you’d like to get even more technical, it was explained in this same study that strain is a biomechanical term, while tear is more of an indication of structural injury

    Tear describes the changes in the muscle that have taken place while strain was what has caused it. 

    Trapezius Muscle Strain: Risk Factors

    Several factors contribute to the risk of muscle strain. These include:

    • Muscle overuse
    • Lack of proper warm-up or stretching before activity
    • Impact or trauma (Such as car accidents or falls)
    • Acute injury

    If you work a highly demanding job such as a construction worker or play impact sports such as football, you are also at higher risk for strain and tear.

    Symptoms to Know Before Trying a Trapezius Tear Test

    This list is in no way all-inclusive and it’s important to note that if you have ongoing pain make sure to get it checked out by your doctor!

    Some trapezius strain symptoms include:

    • Upper back stiffness or discomfort (can also be in the neck or shoulder area)
    • Visible swelling
    • Burning sensation
    • Headaches (referred pain)
    • Decreased range of motion in your shoulders and neck

    Trapezius Tear Test: What to Do With a Strained Trapezius

    Just like with most muscle strains you should first and foremost rest! Sometimes applying ice or using over-the-counter pain medications may also help, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this as a go-to. You can also try applying a CBD salve for anti-inflammatory effects.

    It may be contraindicated to apply heat, stretch, or massage if you are experiencing constant pain. Check with your doctor first. 

    You can, however, apply kinesiology tape for upper trapezius strain, check out the following video for proper application!


    Trapezius Tear Test FAQ

    How do you know if you tore your trapezius?

    Tearing your trapezius muscle will likely have symptoms such as pain, burning, stiffness, decreased muscle strength, and decreased range of motion (in the neck and shoulders). You can even have headaches as referred pain.

    How is trapezius tested?

    Check out the section called Trapezius Tear Test: Try Some Tests at Home which discusses some tests you can try yourself. 

    How long does a trapezius take to heal?

    A light muscle strain (noted as grade 1 from the previous section) may take approximately 2 to 4 weeks to heal. Everyone is different and of course, this timeframe will vary depending on the interventions you commit to. 

    Do you need surgery for a torn trapezius muscle?

    Trapezius tears (as with most muscle tears) are not initially treated with surgery. Conservative interventions make sense to try first. As I briefly mentioned in the above section What to Do With a Strained Trapezius, you can try out things such as rest, ice, and CBD salve. 

    Other interventions may need to be approved by your physician as things such as heat or massage may exacerbate the injury. 

    Surgery is usually reserved for more severe tears where relief can’t be achieved. 

    Trapezius Tear Test: Conclusion

    Since trapezius tears can affect your performance when it comes to your neck, shoulder, and posture, doing a simple test can help determine if you have an injury - that is if pain or discomfort isn’t already a big enough red flag. 

    The extent of damage to your trapezius may need professional eyes and assessment. Knowing how to do a trapezius tear test may be good to know for reference, but not for self-diagnosis. 


    Now that you've read about trapezius tear test, check out our page on trapezius trigger points



    [1] Mueller-Wohlfahrd, H., Haensel, L., Mithoefer, K., Ekstrand, J., English, B., McNally, S., Orchard, J., van Dijk, C., Kerkhoffs, G., Schamasch, P., Blottner, D., Swaerd, L., Doedhard, E., Ueblacker, P. Terminology and classification of muscle injuries in sport: The Munich consensus statement. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2013.

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