Levator Scapulae Muscle Pain And Trigger Points

 

The levator scapulae is the first one to check if you have a stiff and painful neck.


You may be a couch potato, an office worker or even a pretty fit rock climber. This muscle does not discriminate when it decides to give you a sore neck.



Most people who have trouble with this muscle suffer from a stiff and/or painful neck on the affected side.

Content

Pain Zone

Attachment Points

Function

Overuse

Impaired Movements

Palpation

Self-Massage

Pain Zone


When trigger points are present in your levator scapulae, they can give you pain right at their location and send it to other, seemingly unrelated areas of your body.


The main pain zones of the levator scapulae are the side of your neck and your upper shoulder. But this muscle is also capable of sending pain to your shoulder blade and along its inner border – which is called margo medialis –.


It can contribute to the following aches:


In the pictures below, the red colour will show you the pain zones. The darker the red, the more common it is to experience pain in the respective area when your levator contains trigger points.



Attachment Points


The levator scapulae attaches at the top corner/angle of the scapula – called the angulus superior – and at the first four vertebrae of your cervical spine.



Levator Scapulae Function


The duties of this muscle are many. First, as the name suggests, it helps to elevate your shoulder. Furthermore, it rotates your neck and bends it to the same side that is active.



When the levators of both shoulders are activated, they help to bend your neck backwards and to stabilize it when you look downwards.


Elevation


Rotation And Lateral Flexion


Extension And Stabilisation Work


Levator Scapulae Overuse And Trigger Point Development


As you have already learned, bending the neck sideways and shrugging your shoulders are functions of
the levator. This is exactly the way you use the muscle when you hold your phone ‘hands free’. This is a very unnatural position. Although at the time it might not seem to overstress your neck, after a while it does your levator no good.



This static tucking position, especially if you do not have well trained shoulders and do it often and for long times, it will become just too much.



Switching sides does not necessarily help. By doing so, you are prone to develop an overworked levator on both sides of your body.



Lifting and carrying heavy weights is not kind to the shoulders and the levator scapulae. Both tasks pull your shoulders downwards. As the levator wants to stabilize them, it contracts to keep them in place. It will do a good job as long as it can, but if the weight becomes too high or the duration of the stress too long or frequent – e.g. carrying your purse every day on the same side – the muscle reacts. It starts to tighten up permanently. This is its way of withstanding the stress you are placing on it.



Looking upwards for a long time is very unnatural too and is a difficult task for your neck muscles. If you do it – like a belayer in rock climbing – the levators have to work hard and start to cramp and tighten up. Do it too often and the tightness may become a permanent condition. This is when the trouble starts.



Reading with your head facing downwards is the opposite stress. The levators have to stabilize your neck and prevent it from tilting forward too much. Usually this does not trouble your levators a lot, but forcing them to do this for several hours is just too much for most people.



Thus a seemingly easy task becomes damaging. Here it is not the immediate task itself that causes trouble, but its duration.


Impaired Or Painful Movements


If you overstress this muscle, it will let you know. You will have a hard time turning your head fully to the side without pain. This is what most people experience when they are complaining about a stiff and painful neck.



Lying on a sofa or in bed and lifting the neck can be so painful that you have to support your head with your hands. This is especially annoying when you want to change the position of your head on the pillow in order to get a comfortable sleeping position.


Tilting your head forwards in order to read a book also can become painful.


Levator Scapulae Palpation

Like most muscles in the area of your upper back, your levator is also covered by the trapezius muscle. This makes it hard to feel it, but you can locate the place where they attach at your scapula.


Just reach with your hand over your opposite shoulder, searching for the upper part of your shoulder blade. You should feel a bony and spiky landmark. This is the angulus superior and the place where the levator scapulae attaches at your shoulder blade.


Levator Scapulae Self-Massage


For the upper part of the levator scapulae – at the cervical spine – use supportet fingers, as shown in the left picture, or a cane. You massage the lower part best with a cane - right picture -.


In both scenarios, place the tool on the muscle and massage it with deep and repeated strokes.



Note. You are massaging a very sensitive area at your neck. Do not work too hard on it and stop immediately if you feel any discomfort or dizziness.



References


Calais-German, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993. Print

Davies, Clair, and Davies, Amber. The Trigger Point Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide For Pain Relief. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2004. Print

Simons, David G., Lois S. Simons, and Janet G. Travell. Travell & Simons' Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1999. Print.

Schünke, Michael., Schulte, Erik, and Schumacher, Udo. Prometheus: Lernatlas der Anatomie. Stuttgart/New York: Georg Thieme Verlag, 2007. Print


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