Levator Scapulae Muscle Pain
The levator scapulae muscle contributes to pain in the neck and the slope of the neck where it transitions into the shoulder. If you are experiencing pain when turning and tilting the head side to side this muscle is likely involved.
Where Is The Levator Scapulae Located?
The levator scapulae muscles 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 It Control?
- Raises the shoulder and shoulder blade
- Pulls the shoulder blade back to a neutral position when you lower your arm
- Turns the head
- Pulls the head back to look upward
- Assists with side bending of the neck
Looking for origin, insertion, and action information? Go to the Levator Scapulae Muscle Anatomy Page. Find innervation and blood supply information along with agonists and antagonists for each muscle action.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Levator Scapulae Trigger Points?
Pain is primarily felt in the neck and the slope of the shoulder. Trigger points in the muscle can refer pain to the shoulder, upper back and can contribute to headaches at the base of the skull.
Signs and symptoms:
- Pain and stiffness in the neck
- Pain at the slope of the neck and shoulder
- Difficulty turning your 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 upper back
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.
Trigger points are small knots found in the muscle that when pressed increase pain in the area or send referred pain to another area of the body. To learn more about trigger points read Muscle Trigger Points and How They Contribute To Muscle and Joint Pain.
What Causes Trigger Points To Develop In The Levator Scapulae Muscle?
- Text neck is a new term for describing pain in the neck and upper back that is caused by looking down at your phone for hours a day.
- Keeping head turned to one side for extended periods of time
- Sleeping on your stomach
- Holding your phone to ear with your shoulder
- Sleeping in any position without proper head support
- Coughing and sneezing during an 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
- Forward head posture
How To Avoid Development of Trigger Points
- When reading from your phone or tablet, hold the device up and out away from the body so your head is not bent down. If reading a book don't lay it flat on a table or your lap, use a bookstand or hold it up at an angle to read.
- If you are a stomach sleeper try to sleep more on your back and side.
- Use a pillow that will keep your head and neck supported and aligned with your spine.
- Consider using a wheeled briefcase or backpack to take the stress off the shoulder and upper back muscles.
- Keep purses and handbags light. Only carry what is absolutely needed.
- Slumped posture and forward head posture overwork the levator scapulae muscle. Concentrate on straightening the spine and pulling your head back so your chin is not jutting out.
TWD Asks: Does your pillow support your head and neck?
Sleeping without proper head and 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 Trigger Point Treatment
If you are experiencing neck pain and stiffness it is important to check the levator scapulae for trigger points. Many massage therapists, physical therapists, and chiropractors are trained to treat TrPs and can show you how to find and treat specific trigger points.
Another option is to learn how to self-treat. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook is an excellent book that shows you how to find and treat trigger points throughout the body. It is a book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning about muscle pain.
If you are buying the workbook to learn to treat the levator scapulae you will also need the Thera Cane Massager to reach the parts of the muscle where TrPs are likely located. The tool allows you to reach areas of the body that are out of reach. It is also great for those who have arthritis and weak hands to apply the pressure needed for treatment without causing pain in your hands.
Sombra Warming Gel will help reduce neck, shoulder, and upper back pain and stiffness. Sombra gently warms the area without the extreme burning of other heating gels/creams. It provides hours of relief and can be used several times throughout the day. Sombra is not sold in stores.
If you have suffered a whiplash or muscle strain I recommend Biofreeze Professional Gel. Biofreeze cools the area much like ice to reduce injury inflammation. Biofreeze is excellent for injured muscle pain relief.
TWD Recommendations for Self-Treatment:
The best resource to learn how to treat small painful knots is The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. The authors explain trigger points and their effects in everyday language, not medical speak. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning to treat their own muscle pain.
The Thera Cane was developed to allow you to treat muscles that you cannot reach easily like muscles in the back, hip, and feet. This is my tool of choice for treating TrPs in the serratus posterior muscles.
Sombra Warm Therapy Gel is recommended for relaxing muscles and relieving pain. It warms without the burning heat of other gels. An excellent choice for pain caused by trigger points, muscle/joint over-use and stiffness, and arthritis. (Not sold in stores)
How Long Before I Feel A Reduction In Pain?
It takes time to deactivate trigger points but the good news if you find trigger points in the levator scapulae you will notice a reduction in pain and stiffness quickly. Consistent treatments several times a day for 1-2 minutes per treatment until the trigger point(s) can no longer be felt is necessary for successful treatment.
Interesting facts about the levator scapulae muscle:
- It is the only neck muscle that moves the shoulder blade.
- The muscles hold your head up and keep it from falling forward.
- 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.
Levator scapulae muscle pain and symptoms can be similar to, contribute to, and be affected by these medical diagnoses:
- Spasmodic Torticollis
- Wryneck syndrome
- Stiff neck
- Scapulocostal syndrome
- C5 C6 C7 C8 T1 or T2 radiculopathy
- Vascular headaches
TWD Recommends: Correct Your Posture, Reduce Your Pain
If you have rounded shoulder or forward head posture correcting your posture will reduce your neck, back, and shoulder pain. I recommend the HailiCare Posture Corrector The corrector fully supports the back and abdominal area while gently pulling your shoulder back which helps you retrain muscle memory to maintain proper posture. You will immediately notice a reduction of pain and tension. Start slowly, wearing the brace only 20-30 minutes a day slowly increasing the time you wear it. It is uncomfortable at first, but stay with it as it does get better!
Other muscles that should be considered and examined:
- Semispinalis Capitis
- Semispinalis Cervicis
- Longissimus Capitis
- Splenius Capitis
- Splenius Cervicis
- Suboccipital Muscles
Check for satellite trigger points in these muscles:
If you find trigger points in the levator scapulae it is likely you will find trigger points in some or all of these muscles:
- Scalenus posterior
- Splenius cervicis
- Iliocostalis cervicis
TWD Suggests: Give Your Neck and Upper Back A Break
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.
Twelve years of experience working with clients with chronic pain, post injury pain, and post surgery pain. Muscle dysfunction is often overlooked but can hold the key to many pain conditions.