The Levator Scapulae

The levator scapula muscle attaches from the cervical spine (neck) to the scapula (shoulder blade). As you can imagine by the name, its main function is to elevate or lift the scapula. The plural of levator scapula is levator scapulae. If you shrug one shoulder, you are activating the levator scapula. If you shrug both shoulders simultaneously, you are activating the levator scapulae. When the neck is fixed, the levator scapulae elevates and rotates the shoulder blade. When the shoulder is fixed, it rotates and bends the neck to the side. Do it with me! Turn your head to one side then drop your nose towards your hip. Congratulations! You just used your levator scapulae!

Levator Scapulae Muscle

Levator Scapulae Function

The levator scapulae muscle is located in the posterior neck region and plays an important role in the movement and stability of the shoulder girdle. Its primary function is to elevate the scapula, or shoulder blade, which is necessary for movements such as shrugging the shoulders or tilting the head to the side. Additionally, the levator scapulae muscle assists in the downward rotation and retraction of the scapula, contributing to the overall stability and positioning of the shoulder joint.

The levator scapulae muscle, located in the posterior region of the neck, serves a crucial function in the human body. This muscle, which originates from the transverse processes of the upper cervical vertebrae, namely C1 to C4, and inserts into the superior angle of the scapula, plays a significant role in the movement and stabilization of the shoulder girdle.

When it comes to its primary function, the levator scapulae muscle is responsible for elevating the scapula, or shoulder blade, in a superior and medial direction. This action is particularly important in various activities that involve the movement of the upper limb, such as reaching overhead, lifting objects, and performing throwing motions. By contracting and shortening, the levator scapulae muscle effectively raises the scapula, allowing for a greater range of motion and facilitating the execution of these movements.

Moreover, the levator scapulae muscle also contributes to the stabilization of the shoulder girdle. It works in conjunction with other muscles, such as the trapezius and rhomboids, to maintain the proper alignment and positioning of the scapula. This stability is crucial for the optimal functioning of the shoulder joint and the prevention of injuries.

In addition to its primary functions, the levator scapulae muscle also plays a role in the lateral flexion of the neck. When both sides of the muscle contract simultaneously, they assist in bending the neck to the same side. This movement is commonly observed when individuals tilt their heads to one side, for instance, during a gesture of curiosity or contemplation.

It is worth noting that the levator scapulae muscle can be subject to various conditions that may affect its function. These include muscle strains, trigger points, and postural imbalances. In cases of muscle strains, which are often caused by sudden movements or excessive stress, individuals may experience pain and limited range of motion in the neck and shoulder region. Trigger points, on the other hand, are localized areas of muscle tension that can cause referred pain and discomfort. Lastly, postural imbalances, such as rounded shoulders or forward head posture, can lead to overactivity or weakness of the levator scapulae muscle, further compromising its function.

In conclusion, the levator scapulae muscle is a vital component of the human musculoskeletal system. Its primary function of elevating the scapula, along with its role in stabilizing the shoulder girdle and contributing to the lateral flexion of the neck, highlights its significance in facilitating various upper limb movements. Understanding the function and potential conditions affecting this muscle can aid in the prevention and management of related issues, ultimately promoting optimal musculoskeletal health.

Levator Scapulae Pain

Levator scapulae pain is a condition that can significantly impact one’s quality of life. By understanding the causes and implementing appropriate measures, individuals can effectively manage and alleviate the discomfort associated with this condition. When this muscle becomes strained or overworked, it can lead to a variety of symptoms that can greatly impact one’s daily life. These symptoms may include a dull, persistent ache in the neck and upper back region, which can radiate towards the shoulder and even down the arm. In some cases, individuals may also experience stiffness and limited range of motion in the affected area.

It is important to note that levator scapulae pain can be caused by a multitude of factors. Poor posture, such as slouching or hunching over a desk for extended periods, can place undue stress on the muscle, leading to discomfort. Additionally, repetitive movements or activities that involve lifting heavy objects can also contribute to the development of this condition. Furthermore, stress and tension can exacerbate the symptoms, as the levator scapulae muscle tends to tighten in response to emotional or psychological strain.

To alleviate the discomfort associated with levator scapulae pain, it is advisable to adopt certain lifestyle modifications and engage in targeted exercises. Maintaining good posture throughout the day, whether sitting or standing, can help relieve strain on the muscle. Taking regular breaks to stretch and perform gentle neck and shoulder exercises can also provide relief. Furthermore, applying heat or cold packs to the affected area, as well as seeking professional massage therapy, may prove beneficial in reducing pain and promoting relaxation.

Levator Scapulae Trigger Points

Trigger points seem to be the biggest problem I am faced with when dealing with this muscle.  This is commonly related to improper breathing patterns, postural imbalances, and chronic poor biomechanics. When a levator scapule trigger point is present, the patient typically presents with pain like a knife stabbing just above and inside their shoulder blade. There are many different causes of levator scapulae trigger points, and here are a few of the most common:

1. Whiplash. When you are involved in a car accident, your head is whipped in many different directions. The most forceful depends on where the impact occurs. When the head is thrust in an unnatural direction with such force, the levator  tries to counteract that force and becomes injured, creating trigger points. The same type of injury could occur from a hard fall as well, such as diving for a baseball, landing wrong on a trampoline, etc.

2. Sleeping on your stomach with your head turned. As a chiropractor, I must say that sleeping on your stomach is the worst position for your spine in general because it increases the lordosis or extension of the lumbar spine which leads to back pain and, since you can’t sleep with your head in a neutral position face down, you have to turn your head one way or the other. This is where the levator scap comes into play. Turning your head and bending sideways into the pillow activates that muscle for as long as you’re in that position, thus causing a trigger point to form from overuse.

3. Working at a computer. Ergonomics play a large role in the protection of the levator scapulae. If you are using a computer for long periods of time and have to turn your head to do so, you are overusing the levator scapulae. So make sure that the computer is directly in front of you. Also, if the computer screen is below your eye level, it causes a prolonged flexing of the neck which over stretches the levators adding to the problem. Propping the screen up to eye level is recommended to prevent this.

4. Holding a phone between your shoulder and head. Many office jobs involve you being on the phone while still requiring the use of both hands. This leads to the quintessential held tilt and shoulder hike to hold the phone. Both of those actions activate the levator and when the phone conversation continues for long periods of time, the muscle suffers…and frankly so do you. It is highly recommended to switch to a wireless headset if your job requires you to multitask while talking on the phone.

5. Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder. Do you travel by plane and refuse to pay the ridiculous prices to check your bags? I know I do! This leads to cramming tons of stuff into one bag and for a lot of people that is a duffel bag or another bag without wheels. Carrying that overstuffed bag through the airport and while waiting in the dreaded security line causes a downward force on that shoulder thus overstretching the levator scapulae. Do yourself a favor…invest in a rolling carryon!

6. Emotional and mental stress. This one is very common. When you’re feeling stressed, where do you hold that stress? For me, and frankly most women, it’s in the shoulders. The more stressed we get, the closer our shoulders get to our ears. It really is a subconscious thing, but I often find myself in this posture and have to actively relax my shoulders and take a deep breath. If you’re like me and can’t wear dangly earrings because they catch on your clothes, take stock of your posture and shoulder position a few times today and notice the release of tension through the neck and shoulders.

7. Using crutches that are too tall. This one is close to my heart as well, as I am less than 4 weeks from yet another knee surgery. Luckily for me, I have my own trusty set of crutches that I’ve used for years so I know they are fitted well. But not everyone is as lucky…or maybe unlucky…as I am. So, keep in mind when you are purchasing crutches that the top pad shoulder does not rest directly in the armpit when standing. The pad should be a few inches below and the hand grip placement should be at a height where the elbows are slightly bent when standing straight up. If the crutches are not fit properly, the tendency is to shrug your shoulders to support yourself during use. Having them fit by a professional will eliminate a lot of that overcompensation and make the use of crutches more comfortable.

Treating Levator Scapulae Trigger Points

There are a few easy ways to treat these dreaded trigger points. The first is moist heat. Applying moist heat to the back of the neck and top of the shoulders helps to relax the muscle tissue and stimulate blood flow to the affected area which promotes healing. Doing this for 15-20 minutes is all you need. After you heat, move on to stretching. As you can see in the picture, to stretch the levators, turn your head away from the affected side and drop your nose toward the hip on that side. Apply light downward pressure as shown and hold for 6-10 seconds. You want to feel a light stretch without pain. If you feel pain, back off on the stretch. Make sure to stretch BOTH SIDES!!! If heat and stretch doesn’t seem to quite help enough, self-myofascial release is always a great alternative. Placing a tennis ball under the affected shoulder while lying down can help apply pressure to the trigger point which helps to release it. You can also perform this technique standing against a wall. Doing self-myofascial release for 1-3 minutes on each side 3 times a week can help relieve chronic tension in these muscles. Lastly, seeing a chiropractor adept in soft tissue therapies will definitely help relieve pain associated with these muscles. Not only can we apply different myofascial release techniques like Dry Needle Therapy and Graston technique IASTM to increase blood flow and address densification in the soft tissues, but we will also use specific Chiropractic Spinal Adjustments to adjust the neck and upper back to make sure the spine is aligned and there isn’t added tension on the muscles due to fixation in the spine. Also, the adjustment will relieve pressure and irritation on the nerve that innervates the muscles allowing them to function properly. At Pro Chiropractic, we also offer a corrective approach to restore the natural curvature in the neck and reduce forward head carriage that can irritate the levator scapulae muscles.

Levator scapulae trigger point pain


Levator Scapulae Exercises: A Comprehensive Guide

The levator scapulae is a muscle that plays a crucial role in the movement of the shoulder and the posture of the upper body. It is responsible for rotating the scapula upward and backward, which helps to maintain proper posture and prevent muscle imbalances. In this guide, we will discuss the exercises that can help to strengthen and tone the levator scapulae muscle. The levator scapulae muscle is responsible for maintaining proper posture and preventing muscle imbalances in the shoulder. It is also essential for lifting and rotating the arm. When the levator scapulae muscle is weak, it can lead to poor posture, shoulder pain, and limited mobility in the shoulder joint.
The following exercises can help to strengthen and tone the levator scapulae muscle:
1. Shoulder Blade Squeeze Exercise
Sit or stand with your back straight and your arms at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for a count of 10. Release and repeat 10 times.
2. Rolling Shoulder Exercise
Roll your shoulders forward and backward in a circular motion. Repeat 10 times.
3. Push-Up Exercise
Perform a push-up with your hands shoulder-width apart. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the ground and then push back up to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
4. Shoulder Press Exercise
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Press the dumbbells straight up over your head and lower them back down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
5. Wall Push-Up Exercise
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place your hands on a wall at shoulder height. Perform a push-up against the wall and lower your body until your chest nearly touches the wall. Then push back up to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
6. Row Exercise
Sit in a rowing machine or on a bench with your feet flat on the ground. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and row the dumbbells up to your sides. Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
The levator scapulae muscle plays a crucial role in maintaining proper posture and preventing muscle imbalances in the shoulder. The exercises listed above can help to strengthen and tone the levator scapulae muscle, improving posture, reducing shoulder pain, and increasing mobility in the shoulder joint. Remember to follow proper form and technique, warm up before each workout, and rest and stretch after each workout to maximize muscle growth and prevent injury.

Why the Levator Scapulae may be The Most Important Muscle You Have Never Heard Of….

In conclusion, the levator scapulae muscle plays a crucial role in the movement and stability of the shoulder joint. It helps to elevate the scapula, which is important for proper posture and movement of the arm. Weakness or imbalances in the levator scapulae muscle can lead to shoulder instability and significant neck and shoulder pain.

In the treatment of levator scapulae dysfunction, chiropractic therapies are often used to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint, improve posture, and correct any imbalances. Exercises such as the shoulder blade squeeze, shoulder rolls, and resistance band exercises noted above can be effective in improving the function of the levator scapulae muscle. Additionally, manual therapy techniques such as IASTM, dry needle therapy, and cupping therapy can be used to relieve pain and improve mobility in the shoulder joint.
To summarize, the levator scapulae muscle is an essential element of the shoulder joint and has a pivotal function in maintaining correct posture and facilitating movement. Insufficiency or imbalances in this muscle may result in shoulder instability and discomfort and can be addressed through a combination of chiropractic therapy and manual therapy techniques.
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