Levator Scapula: The Shrug Muscles

leavatorscapsThe levator scapula muscles are muscles in your neck, one on each side, that run between the upper part of each shoulder blades (scapula) and join with the spine at the top four cervical vertebrae. It is a thin, flat muscle located just below the upper part of the trapezius.

The elevator scapula muscle elevates the scapula when you lift your arms, or shrug your shoulders. It also assists many other muscles in your neck and shoulders with rotation of the scapula and steering your glenohumeral joint.

The muscle is commonly overly used as a result of asymmetrical carrying, lifting or reaching with your arm.  Things like carrying a bag or backpack on one shoulder, holding your phone between your head and shoulder, or using a computer mouse can all cause stress on the levator scapulae muscles.

How do I know my levators are stressed?

Typical symptoms of a contracted levator scapula include elevated shoulder(s) and decreased mobility in one or both shoulders. You may also experience:

  • soreness or difficulty when rotating your head
  • a “kink” in your neck
  • difficulty placing your chin on your chest
  • a headache at the back of the head (base of the skull)

What do I do about overused levator scapula muscles?

Luckily, soft tissue manipulation (aka massage) can really help even things out and relax a stressed levator scapula muscle.  The therapist typically stretches the muscle through careful movement of the neck and upper spine and controlled ironing of the muscles.

Self care includes careful stretching.  Here’s a favorite: Grab the left side of the seat of your chair with your left hand. Sit up very straight and bring your chin toward your chest. Tip your head to the right, looking toward your right armpit, until you feel a stretch along the left side of your neck. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times. Grasp the right edge of your chair with your right hand and repeat to stretch your left levator scapula muscle.

If you still have a stiff neck or sore muscles, run, don’t walk, to your nearest qualified massage therapist.  They can work wonders in a few minutes and show you more self-care and postural correction tips that will help you feel better fast.