The levator scapulae is a muscle of the upper neck and back. It extends from just below the head to attach to the scapula, a triangular bone in the upper back. Levator Scapulae are twin muscles running on either side of the neck. The function of levator scapulae is to elevate and retract the scapula, helping in scapular motion. Besides this, unilateral contraction of levator scapulae causes same side neck flexion, whereas bilateral contraction of levator scapulae results in neck extension.
Levator scapulae are commonly affected by pain and tightness, known as Levator Scapulae Syndrome. Levator scapulae are prone to stiffening and chronic pain, due to poor posture like hunched shoulders while working at your computer, holding a phone between the shoulder and ear, carrying heavy shoulder bags for an extended period, and sleeping on one side of the body without proper head support. Pain can also be felt in the neck, over the top of the shoulder, or between the shoulder blades. Pain due to Levator scapulae syndrome is localized in the muscle. It never travels to the upper arm. Other symptoms include a feeling of tightness in the muscle and a decreased range of motion of cervical flexion, rotation, and side flexion to the contralateral side. Tightening of Levator scapulae exert its effect on both scapula position and cervical spine movements.
Forward head posture leads to increased tension and tightness in Levator scapulae muscle, which can further lead to cervicogenic headaches. Following options help with the Levator scapulae pain-
- Trigger point therapy helps in releasing tension in the Levator scapulae muscle.
- Heat therapy in the form of hot water fermentation helps in relaxing the muscle.
- Massaging the muscle gives relaxation and helps in easing out pain by breaking adhesions.
- Stretching the levator scapulae muscle– Sit upright on a chair and grab the bottom of the chair with your hand on the affected side. Now rotate the head about 45 degrees to the unaffected side and tilt the chin down as if trying to see in your shirt’s upper pocket. You will feel the stretch on the back of the neck on the affected side. To increase the stretch further, place your unaffected side hand on the back of the head and pull down gently. Hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times and repeat on both sides.
- Taping the levator scapulae
- Dry needling
Regular stretching of Levator Scapulae helps in keeping it flexible and prevent neck pain due to everyday stress and poor posture.
Once the pain subsides and the Levator scapulae is flexible, one can start strengthening of levator scapulae by
- Shoulder shrugs with dumbbells in hands-8 -10 reps.
- Shoulder external rotation at 90 degrees abduction- With dumbbells in your hands, lift your arm sideways to 90 degrees with the elbow flexed to 90 degrees and fist facing to the ground. From this position, externally rotate your shoulder by moving the forearm upwards. Repeat 8-10 times.
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