Neck pain and pain across the top of the shoulder is called trapezius myalgia. Myalgia simply means muscle pain. The upper trapezius muscle (the one that shrugs the shoulders) is involved. The problem is common in women who are office workers.
Studies have shown that strengthening painful muscles helps relieve muscular pain. In this study, the level of muscle activation of the upper trapezius was measured for five selected (commonly used) exercises for chronic neck pain. Surface electromyography (EMG) was used to measure activation level of neck and shoulder muscles. Exercises included shoulder shrugs, one-arm rows, upright rows, reverse flys, and lateral (arm) raises.
The trapezius muscle was most active during shrugs and lateral raises. The other exercises were not as effective. But they were able to challenge the trapezius muscle at a level that would increase strength. These findings were important for two reasons. First, the study showed that a broad range of exercises can be used to strengthen the trapezius. This is important in the rehab treatment program for trapezius myalgia.
Second, for patients with poor grip strength, holding weights during shoulder shrugs can be difficult. This study showed that there is an alternate exercise that works just as well. Lateral raises along with the other exercises can also be used for patients with back pain who can’t hold the weight needed to resist the trapezius muscle during shoulder shrugs.
The researchers also found that shoulder shrugs can replace lateral raises and upright row exercises. This will be useful information for physical therapists. Shoulder shrugs can be used with patients who have good grip strength but rotator cuff (shoulder) problems along with chronic neck pain from trapezius myalgia.