Trapezius muscle balance is important for normal shoulder function. Often in patients with impingement, the lower trapezius is much weaker than the upper trapezius. Traditional exercises to strengthen the lower trapezius such as prone shoulder flexion may cause further impingement, creating a “catch 22” for clinicians: Is there a better exercise for the lower trapezius that doesn’t impinge the shoulder?

Scientific Advisory Board member, Sue Falsone, PT, ATC, Vice President of Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix presented a pilot study of EMG activation of the upper and lower portions of the trapezius muscle during prone flexion with a cuff weight and 3 novel Thera-Band® tubing exercises at the 13th annual TRAC meeting in San Francisco, California.

The “vector” principle of elastic exercise prescription creates vectors of resistance more specific to muscle function. Vector exercises for lower trapezius were developed to create a line of resistance in the direction of the fibers of the lower trapezius, and in the opposite direction of its action of retraction and depression.

In Falsone’s pilot study, 10 healthy subjects without shoulder pain performed these 4 exercises in random order while Noraxon surface EMG data was captured and then normalized to a maximal contraction:

  • Prone shoulder flexion with 3 pound cuff weight
  • Vector scapular retraction with green Thera-Band tubing
  • Vector scapular retraction plus step back with green Thera-Band tubing
  • Vector scapular retraction plus scaption with green Thera-Band tubing

She found that lower trapezius activation was greater in all 3 vector exercises, while the upper trapezius activation was less than the prone flexion exercise. In fact, the upper trapezius activation during vector exercises was half that of prone flexion!

In patients with shoulder pain related to trapezius muscle imbalance, the lower trapezius vector exercise with Thera-Band elastic resistance may be better to bias the lower trapezius during rehabilitation exercises. Falsone plans to expand her pilot study with more subjects and publish her results next year.

Read the abstract of her study here: EMG analysis of the upper and lower trapezius during Thera‐Band® elastic resistance exercises

Click here to learn more about all the research at TRAC 2011.

Be sure and listen to a podcast interview with Sue about her project:

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