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,