Updated: Jun 12, 2019
(Darth) Levator Scapulae
Pain from the Dark Side
Levator scapulae pain is one of the most common general muscle complaints and can be associated with sleepless nights and an irritable mood. Understanding the levator scapulae is helpful for both preventing and treating levator scapulae pain.
The levator scapulae muscle is at the side and back of your neck. Its main job is to lift the scapula, which is the triangle-shaped bone situated at the back of the shoulder. The upper portion of the muscle sits under the sternocleidomastoideus muscle, while its lower part sits under the trapezius. The sternocleidomastoideus muscle is on the side of the neck and is one of the largest and most superficial cervical muscles. It helps to rotate the head to the opposite side and is supplied by a nerve in the cervical spine area.
What Causes Levator Scapulae Pain?
Based on the explanation above, you can imagine levator scapulae action. This muscle can get worked a lot on a daily basis, but having levator scapulae syndrome – which basically means the area is irritated and inflamed – can be terribly uncomfortable and rather restricting. Those who suffer from levator scapulae chronic pain are forced to give up activities that they enjoy since they can activate trigger points in the muscle upon movement.
The following list covers some of the levator scapulae pain causes that I commonly see at On Point Massage Therapy:
Whiplash from motor vehicle accidents
Working at a computer with the head turned
Carrying heavy bags with a shoulder strap
Chilling of the muscle during sleep from a ceiling fan or air conditioner
Holding a phone between the shoulder and ear for too long
Leaning on the elbow for extended periods of time
Sleeping on your stomach with your head turned
Forward head posture
What Symptoms May Occur with Levator Scapulae Pain?
Some healthcare providers describe people with levator scapulae pain as individuals who “walk like Frankenstein” (....or perhaps Darth Vader?) They aren’t making fun of these individuals; they are trying to explain what it’s like.
You can see how some of the levator scapulae pain symptoms below demonstrate why this creature’s name is used.
No head forward posture: People with levator scapula pain tend to keep their head directly above their shoulders, while most people walk with their head slightly projected forward.
An elevated shoulder: Usually one shoulder blade is held a little higher than the other, which can be seen from the back.
Neck stiffness: The sufferer has difficulty moving their head to either side due to stiffness.
Anxiety: People with levator scapulae pain often complain about the type of breathlessness that is linked to panic attacks.
Painful neck and impaired movement: It can be painful to turn the head fully or lift the neck when you are lying down. Some people have to support their neck with their hands when they attempt to get up.
Levator Scapulae Self-Care
Levator scapulae exercises can go a long way in helping those who suffer from this muscle pain feel better. Here are a couple of suggestions:
Flex the deep muscles on the front of your neck to help tuck your chin down. You can also do a neck flexion by bending the whole neck forward from its base on top of the torso. Neck flexors are easier to do if you lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, if you’re tucking your chin in and if you lift your head off the floor.
Neck Lateral Flexion
You can laterally flex your neck by standing up and tucking your chin in, bringing your ear toward your shoulder, then returning to an upright position and bringing your ear toward the opposite shoulder.
Self Massage with Your Hands
1. You can massage the right area by taking your index finger and middle finger from your left hand and crossing them over your chest, placing them on the soft tissue area at the back of your shoulder.
2. Press down and then draw small circles with your shoulder. This will move your scapula.
3. You can then move your fingers up your neck along the muscle and put pressure on any trigger points you discover.
4. Move your head from side to side, up and down, or in a circular motion.
Once you’re finished, you can switch hands to do the other side of your neck. You need to be careful when using the two-finger massage approach since applying too much pressure can agitate the sensitive tissues and nerves, which may lead to dizziness.