Heyy! I did another drawing of a muscle! Actually, I did it some time ago, and then kept forgetting to write a post to go with it. Here we have what a few clients have referred to as their “nemesis”—the levator scapula.
You might be able to figure out what it does by its name… namely, it elevates the scapula (shoulder blade). If you ask someone where their scapula is, and they *shrug* and say “I don’t know”—they’re using their levator scapula!
What Makes the Levator Scapula So Knotty?
I see a fair number of agitated levator scapulae (plural!) in stressed out people, and in particular during the frigid cold weather we’ve had this winter in Maine. When we’re stressed or cold, we have a tendency to shrug our shoulders up around our ears out of tension or an attempt to stay warm. As you can imagine, the levator scapula wasn’t really designed to hold our shoulder blades up ALL. THE. TIME. So, like any muscle getting over used, it can get stuck that way, leaving your neck feeling tight and painful.
The levator scapula also contributes to your ability to flex your head towards your shoulder, as well as rotating your head from left to right. This means that quite often that “crick in your neck” that makes it hard to turn your head, is probably the result of an angry levator scapula. You might feel it as a muscle spasm that runs from the side of your neck, where it attaches to the transverse processes (“sticky-outy” parts) of your cervical (neck) vertebrae, all the way down to the upper inside edge of your shoulder blade. Sometimes there’s a good “knot” right at the curve where your neck and shoulder meet.
How Do We Get the Knots Out?
You can often do a little self-care at home to ease the muscle “crick” or spasm, especially since this is a muscle you can reach on your own. You can try a little liniment or a product like Biofreeze® to temporarily relieve the spasm. Heat from a rice bag or heating pad may also help. You can massage the muscle a little bit on your own, however I recommend keeping your pressure relatively light, since you are getting into an area where there are a lot of nerves and large blood vessels present.
The good news is, this is one of my favorite muscles to work on. It’s so often the cause of pain for my clients, that it’s quite gratifying to grab hold of that cranky little muscle and teach it how to relax again. It’s even more gratifying to see that client leave the office being able to move their head and neck with no pain!
I like to apply a little heat with a hot stone massage tool to get it warmed up and improve the circulation to the muscle. Once it’s good and warmed up, I will typically work on both ends of the muscle where it attaches to the bones of your shoulder blade and neck, as well as any “knots” along the length of the muscle itself. With a little bit of time and patience, we can convince the muscle to soften and lengthen again, and remind it how it’s supposed to contract and relax, not just contract!
Even more good news! If you wake up in the morning with that “crick” in your neck that just won’t go away, but you don’t think massage is in your budget, I can still help you! When you call or book online, just choose the “30 Minute Back & Neck Express” special, which is only $25. Or just talk to me about what you can afford, and sometimes just a few minutes in my massage chair can get things loosened up and significantly reduce your pain! Feel free to contact me to talk about your neck pain!