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Trapezius – Functional Anatomy

The trapezius is a broad, flat muscle covering the upper back. It is named for the trapezoid shape that these paired muscles create. It has three major sections that originate on the axial skeleton and insert on the pectoral girdle, making it an extrinsic back muscle.

Each of its sections has a distinctive function and pain patterns. The upper section is similar in attachment, function, and referral patterns to the sternocleidomastoid. The middle and lower sections are similar to each other in attachment and pain patterns. Because of this, this text deals with each of those sections individually.


In general, the trapezius retracts the scapula. It acts to suspend and stabilize the shoulder girdle for use of the upper extremity. It also retracts and stabilizes the scapula so that extrinsic chest muscles can expand the rib cage during labored breathing.

Upper Trapezius:

The upper trapezius connects the occiput and upper cervical vertebrae to the clavicle through the lower cervical vertebrae, first rib, and manubrium.

Origin -the medial third of the superior nuchal ridge and ligamentum nuchae from C1-C5

Insertion – posterior edge of the lateral clavicle

Function – draws the lateral clavicle medially toward the spine, rotating the scapula upward or laterally flexing the cervical vertebrae


The middle trapezius connects the lower cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae to the scapula through the upper ribs, sternum, manubrium, and clavicle.

Origin – the spinous processes and superior ligaments of the vertebrae C6-T3

Insertion – acromion and spine of the scapula

Function – adduction and retraction of the scapula, it also lifts the lateral angle of the scapula by pivoting the clavicle on the sternoclavicular joint.


The lower trapezius connects the lower thoracic vertebrae to the scapula through the ribs, sternum, manubrium, and clavicle.

Origin – the spinous processes and superior ligaments of T4-T12

Insertion – the root of the scapula

Function – stabilize the scapula during movement of the upper extremity; may adduct or upwardly rotate the scapula

Wikipedia Entry for Trapezius

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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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