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.

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    Where Are The Levator Scapulae Muscles?

    Levator Scapulae Muscle

    The levator scapulae muscles are found on each side of the back of the neck. They attach to the first four neck (cervical) vertebrae and travel 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.


    Levator Scapulae Trigger Points Symptoms:

    Levator Scapulae Referred Pain Pattern

    Pain is primarily felt in the neck and the slope of the shoulder. Trigger points in the muscle refer pain to the shoulder, upper back and also contribute to headaches at the base of the skull.

    The 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.

    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)

    Biofreeze Professional Gel is recommended for the pain and symptoms of muscle strains. It provides excellent pain relief and may help reduce inflammation caused by a strain. Recommended by medical professionals and trainers.

    What Causes Levator Scapulae Trigger Points To Develop?

    • Text neck is a new term for describing pain in the neck and upper back caused by looking down at your phone for hours a day.
    • Keeping head turned to one side for extended periods
      • 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
    • Whiplash
    • Forward head posture

    TWD Recommends

    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.

    How To Avoid Development of Trigger Points In The Levator Scapulae:

    • When reading 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 needed.
    • Slumped posture and forward head posture overwork the levator scapulae muscle. To correct this, concentrate on straightening the spine and pulling your head back, so your chin is not jutting out.

    TWD Recommends

    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 have advanced training to treat TrPs and 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 buy 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 with arthritis and weak hands to apply the pressure needed for treatment without causing pain in your hands.

    TWD Recommends

    Doctors and physical therapists often recommend TENS to relax muscles and ease the pain. The Belifu TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator is an excellent choice for treating shoulder, arm, and upper back pain.

    How Long Before I Feel A Reduction In Pain?

    It takes time to deactivate trigger points, but if you find trigger points in the levator scapulae, you will notice a reduction in pain and stiffness quickly once they are deactivated. 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:

    • 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
    • Whiplash
    • Scapulocostal syndrome
    • C5 C6 C7 C8 T1 or T2 radiculopathy
    • Vascular headaches
    • Scapulocostal syndrome


    Other muscles that should be considered and examined:

    Satellite trigger points associated with the levator scapulae 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
    • Trapezius
    • Splenius cervicis
    • Iliocostalis cervicis

    Find additional muscles that may contribute to these symptoms:


    Muscles with similar pain patterns

    Trapezius Muscle
    Supraspinatus Muscle
    Splenius Cervicis Muscle