Those Knotty Muscles: Levator Scapula

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.

Levator What?

levator scapula illustration

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. It’s really common during the frigid cold Maine winter weather. When we’re stressed or cold, we tend to shrug our shoulders up around our ears and hold them there.

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 contributes to your ability to flex your head towards your shoulder rotating it from left to right. Quite often, that “crick in your neck” is the result of an angry levator scapula.

You might feel it as a muscle spasm that runs from the side of your neck. This is where it attaches to the transverse processes (“sticky-outy” parts) of your cervical (neck) vertebrae. The muscle runs 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?

This is a muscle you can reach on your own with little effort. This means you can often do a little self-care at home to ease tension. You can try a little liniment or a product like Biofreeze® to temporarily relieve muscle pain. Additionally, heat from a rice bag or heating pad may help.

You can massage the muscle a little bit on your own. However, I do recommend keeping your pressure relatively light. 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 neck pain, and it’s gratifying to teach that cranky little muscle how to relax again. It’s even more gratifying when client leaves the office being able to move their head and neck with no pain!

I will sometimes apply a little heat with a hot stone massage tool to get it warmed up. This also helps improve the circulation to the muscle. Neck stretches, shoulder stretches, and traction go a long way towards relaxing the muscle. Finishing with gentle positional release technique releases tension without being too painful.

With a little bit of patience, we can tame your cranky levator scapula.

Be Well,

Those Knotty Muscles: The Trapezius

trapezius illustrationFor those who don’t know me, I am an artist as well as a massage therapist, and whenever I write something about a particular muscle – like the trapezius – I look for clip art of that muscle and think to myself, “I really should just make my own muscle illustrations.”

Well, I recently got a fancy digital stylus that makes it possible to use my iPad like a sketchpad. It didn’t take me long to realize that making muscle illustrations would be a fun use of this particular technology.

That’s Nice, Now What’s This About Knotty Muscles?

Now, to get to the point… this knotty little muscle, the trapezius, also know as “the traps”. Named for it’s trapezoid shape, it covers a large portion of your back and shoulders and is the muscle you can pretty easily feel right below the surface of the skin at your upper shoulders.

This is one of the main muscles that is likely bothering you when you say your neck or shoulders ache. Because of the wide region of the body it covers, it is responsible for, or at least involved in, a lot of actions of the neck, back and shoulders. This includes shrugging your shoulders, moving your arm and shoulders backwards, and tilting your head back.

What Makes a Trapezius So Knotty?

Pain in the trapezius can result from injuries such as whiplash, carrying heavy objects, neck and shoulder tension, or poor posture. I feel like the most common source of upper trapezius pain I see is due to the tendency to scrunch our shoulders up towards our ears when we’re stressed. When we do this, those muscles contract to hold that position. After being contracted like that for a long time, the muscles tighten and can get stuck that way, tear, or develop those sticky spots we call “knots”.

physio-1778029_640How Do We Get the Knots Out?

If your traps prove to be a problem area for you, we’ll spend time working on them during your massage. We’ll work to soften, relax and lengthen them again. The trapezius has three different sections, upper, middle and lower fibers. Each section has different functions and different ways we can work on them during massage.

For the upper portion of the muscles, I’ll use a mix of massage strokes, deep pressure/compression, movement, and gentle positional release techniques. Stretching and range of motion of the arms and shoulders meant can help get them loosened up and moving again. The middle and lower portions of the trapezius are worked with massage strokes and different stretches and movements down your back, alongside your spine, and across the shoulder blades.

If you’ve got pain or tension in these areas, I can help! We can work on the trapezius and other shoulder muscles both on the massage table and in the massage chair. Even a short session can help. Contact me to schedule your appointment, and we’ll get that knotty muscles back into shape!