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Levator Scapulae Muscle: Neck, Shoulder, Headache, Pain

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Pain in the neck and shoulder, a stiff neck and headaches where the neck and skull connect can be a sign of levator scapulae dysfunction.

What are the pain and symptoms associated with the levator scapulae muscle?

  • Pain at the slope of the neck and shoulder
  • Stiff neck, difficulty turning head to look over the shoulder
  • Headaches at the base of the skull
  • Occasionally pain from the top of the shoulder blade extending to the middle of the shoulder blade

Where is the levator scapulae muscle?

The levator scapulae are found on each side of the back of the neck. It attaches to the first four neck (cervical) vertebrae and travels down to connect to the upper edge of the shoulder blade (scapula).

What movements does the levator scapulae muscle control?

  • Raises the shoulder and shoulder blade
  • Pulls the shoulder blade back to neutral position when you lower your arm
  • Turns the head
  • Pulls the head back to look upward
  • Assists with side bending of the neck

Activities that cause pain or symptoms of the levator scapulae muscle:

  • Keeping head turned to one side ie. Sleeping on stomach, holding phone to ear with shoulder
  • Sleeping without proper head support
  • Acute upper respiratory infection will cause the levator scapulae to shorten and become stiff and painful
  • Painting overhead for extended periods
  • Carrying heavy backpacks or purses
  • Whiplash
  • Forward head posture

TWD Suggests: Maybe It Is Time For A New Pillow

Sleeping without proper neck support is sure to aggravate the levator scapulae as well as other neck and shoulder muscles. The Sweetnight Pillow has adjustable filling and is highly recommended for its neck support.

Levator Scapulae Origin, Insertion, Action, Innervation

You use the levator scapulae when you raise your shoulders, turn your head and side bend your neck.

Interesting facts about the levator scapulae:

  • It is the only neck muscle that moves the shoulder blade.
  • Anyone who carries a heavy purse or backpack suspended from shoulder straps will have pain associated with the levator scapulae. Sore and stiff necks among children have skyrocketed with the popularity of carrying books and school supplies in backpacks.

TWD Suggests: Stop Carrying Heavy Backpacks, Briefcases, and Satchel or Shoulder Purses

Heavy backpacks, suitcases, and briefcases will fire up neck, shoulder, and upper back pain. Using something like the Targus Rolling Backpack will quickly relieve overuse pain and strain.

Is your purse the cause of your neck and shoulder pain?  Redistribute the weight by using a crossbody purse like this one by Alyssa .  Affordable and lots of stylish colors!

Clinical diagnoses to which the levator scapulae muscle symptoms may contribute:

  • Spasmodic Torticollis
  • Wryneck syndrome
  • Stiff neck
  • Whiplash
  • Scapulocostal syndrome
  • C5 C6 C7 C8 T1 or T2 radiculopathy
  • Vascular headaches

Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the levator scapulae:


TWD Recommends: Hot/Cold Wrap For Neck, Shoulders, Back

Levator scapulae tightness and pain responds well to hot and cold treatments. The Huggaroo neck wrap treats the neck, top of the shoulder, and upper back. Use hot or cold.

Satellite trigger points associated with the levator scapulae muscle:

  • Scalenus posterior
  • Splenius cervicis
  • Iliocostalis cervicis

For detailed anatomy information:  
Levator Scapulae Anatomy

Help with Levator Scapulae Muscle Neck, Shoulder and Headache Pain

Cold Therapy Gel To Relieve Neck Pain From Recent Injury

Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel is an excellent pain relieving gel and I recommend it for those who have sudden onset muscle pain or recent injuries. Biofreeze is better than warm therapy gels and creams for recent injury muscle pain as it cools the area much like ice and does not promote swelling. A recent study showed that Biofreeze decreased pain 2 times more than ice and the pain relief lasts 9 – 10 longer. Biofreeze is recommended for those who have had a recent neck injury or sudden onset pain. Highly recommended for early treatment of whiplash. Rub into the back and side of the neck up, across the base of the skull and down into the top of the shoulder down and around the shoulder blade to treat the levator scapulae muscle.

Hot and Cold Wrap for Neck and Shoulders

The Elasto-Gel Cervical Collar can be used for hot or cold therapy to the neck and upper shoulder area. This is a great wrap to use with the levator scapulae as it covers the muscle and can be used while you are up and moving. Use cold therapy for new and recent injury or sudden onset pain. Use  heat therapy for injuries over a week old and chronic pain from old injury and tight muscles. I recommend this because it conforms to the contours of your body and is well made to last for years.

Warm Therapy Gel To Relax Tight Muscles and Relieve Chronic Neck Pain From Arthritis and Old Injuries

Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel is a warming gel that I use both personally and in my massage therapy practice. Unlike other over the counter heating creams, it provides warmth without burning heat. Applying Sombra to the muscles on the back and side of the neck down to and around the shoulder blade will help reduce tension and pain caused by the levator scapulae muscle.

Pillow To Relax and Stretch The Levator Scapulae Muscles To Ease Shoulder, Neck and Upper Back Pain and Stiffness

Soothe-a-ciser: Relief for neck and shoulder pain helps relieve pressure and pain in the neck, shoulders and upper back.  10 - 15 minutes laying on the pillow allows muscles in the neck, chest, shoulders and upper back to relax and can relieve or even stop some headaches. It can work especially well for those with tight pectoral (chest)  muscles which stress the levator scapulae muscles. It also brings relief for people who have slumping upper posture or rounded shoulders. A recommended pillow for people who work at desks and computers.

Neck King Massage Tool Can Help Relieve Levator Scapulae Tension

I use and often recommend the Neck King Massage Tool For Neck and Back to my clients. The Neck King works on trigger points and pressure points in the neck and the back to help relieve muscle tension and pain. The secret to using the Neck King is to follow the directions carefully and to slowly build up the time spent using the tool. For some first time users, the tool is too hard to use comfortably. Folding a hand towel and laying it over the Neck King will help ease the discomfort.  This tool has helped me as well as many of my clients relieve headaches, sore stiff necks, and upper back strain. This tool can help with pain and discomfort of the Levator Scapulae muscle by working the muscle  connections and trigger points in the neck as well as other muscles that connect to the neck and base of the skull.

Self Treatment of the Levator Scapulae

Do you know that headaches at the base of the skull, pain at the top of the shoulder going up the back of the neck is often a sign of trigger points or other dysfunction in the levator scapulae muscle?

When I recommend trigger point tools like the Neck King to my clients I always recommend that they also purchase Claire Davies  The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. Mr. Davies explains the trigger point phenomenon and muscle pain in everyday language.  But what makes this book worth its weight in gold are the individual muscle trigger point treatments that Davies has compiled. His diagrams and step by step instructions help you locate which muscles are contributing to your pain,  how to find the trigger point and treat it. While it takes time and practice to master finding trigger points, once you learn you have a tool and method to help relieve muscle pain throughout the body. If you are suffering from headaches, a painful stiff neck and / or an aching shoulder,  treating the trigger points in the levator scapulae can help reduce or eliminate you pain.  This book is a must-have for anyone interested in finding the cause and treating muscle pain.

Thera Cane Helps You Easily Treat The Levator Scapulae Muscle

The Theracane Massager is a self-treatment massage tool for use on those hard to reach areas on the neck, shoulders, back, hips and legs. If you are considering buying the book The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook to help relieve back, buttock and hip pain you will need to buy the Theracane to use the treatment methods detailed in the book.

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