Muscle of the Month: Levator Scapulae
The muscle of this month is the lovely little Levator Scapulae. If you sit at a desk, look down at your phone, or simply live the life of a modern-day human, you may have experienced some pain in this region of your neck time to time.
Let's go over the anatomy of this muscle, recognize pain patterns and symptoms, and look at stretches and exercises to help reduce pain and prevent irritation.
But first, the Nitty Gritty:
Pronounced: leh-va-tor skap-u-la
ACTIONS: elevate the scapula, downwardly rotate the scapula, laterally flex the head and neck, rotate the head and neck to the same side, and Bilaterally it extends the head and neck.
ORIGIN: transverse processes of first through fourth cervical vertebrae.
INSERTION: medial border of scapula, between superior angle and superior portion of spine of scapula.
NERVES: cervical 3, 4, and dorsal scapular C4 and 5.
It is deep to the trapezius, superficial on side of neck
In short: Lift your shoulder blades
It originates from the top 4 cervical vertebrae, and inserts on the top-most point of the scapula, at the medial-superior corner. It is a thin, flat muscle located just below the upper part of the trapezius.
Causes of Tightness
The levator scapulae is shortened by bad posture, by raising the shoulder or the shoulder girdle.
* poor sleeping posture
* arm rests on chairs or in vehicles that are too high
* emotional tension
* whiplash from an accident
* since the levator scapulae raises the shoulder girdle, it also works statically in times of stress since the shoulders are often raised in response to tension.
* forward head posture while reading, working at desks
* holding a phone between the cheek and the shoulder
Symptoms of Tightness or Pain Patterns: Pain at the angle of the neck and upper back, as well as the midscapular region. You may experience limited range of motion to the affected side. (Think: when your neck hurts while trying to look behind your shoulder while backing out of your car parking spot....you may have levator scapulae trigger point.) Your breathing may also feel constrained.
• Difficulty rotating the head
• Difficulty placing the chin on the chest
• Headache at the back of the head
• Kink, pain and/or inflammation in the neck
Ways to relieve pain in the Levator Scapulae:
2. Strengthen the levator scapulae's antagonist muscle: serratus anterior. Here is a great article on how to do this, but there are plenty of exercises and tips out there....
3. Stretch it out. Try these tips from the book, "Trigger Point Therapy for Myofascial Pain."
a. bend the head toward the unaffected side, leaning the ear toward the homolateral shoulder. Rotate the face about 30 degrees to the unaffected side. Flex the neck slightly, directing the stretch forward and toward the unaffected side.
b. for a deeper stretch, while holding this position, grasp the wrist of the arm on the affected side behind the back and pull slightly.
4. Massage Therapy can help to relax the muscle itself, as well as the surrounding muscles. I am just a phone call away!
5. If the pain is horrendous and is negatively effecting your daily life, you may want to try other techniques like dry needling, Rolfing, or physical therapy.
For dry needling and physical therapy, I suggest Sam Sneed at Next Level Chiropractic, or Dr. Nick Engel of ATX PT (at least follow Nick on Instagram for awesome tips and tricks on exercises and inspiration!). For Rolfing, I suggest Dr. Len Worley, located in downtown Austin. I have visited all of these practitioners, and can personally speak very highly of their craft.
No one likes a pain in the neck, so feel free to try out these tips on reducing your pain in your levator scapulae. Let me know how it goes, or if I can help you out.
Thanks for reading. As always, please send me a message with any questions, comments, or concerns.
Amy, West Austin Massage
References and Images:
3. Trail Guide of the Body App