One of the most common indicators of stress is when our shoulders creep up closer and closer to our ears. You know what I’m talking about, you’ve been sitting at the computer for hours trying to make that deadline or you’re frustrated with your coworker, spouse or child. All of a sudden you realize that your neck has disappeared!
Levator scapulae is the muscle largely responsible for elevating the scapula, also commonly referred to as the shoulder blade. What makes it such a key stress muscle is that besides attaching to the scapula it also attaches to the top four vertebrae in the neck.
A Domino Effect
There are so many various muscles that attach to the vertebrae in your neck (upper cervical vertebrae), that one stressed muscle can easily cause a domino effect. Other potentially affected muscles include:
The Anterior, Posterior and Middle Scalenes
These are the muscles that help to bend the neck to the same side.
The Splenius Cervicis, Splenius Capitis, and Longissimus Cervicis
These muscles are responsible for:
- Bending the neck back to look upwards.
- Extending the head and neck.
- Rotating the head from side to side.
- Bending the neck to each side, such as when you tilt your head to one side of the body.
- The Longissimus Cervicis assists in bending the back backward, such as when you perform a slight backbend. Bending the back to either side, such as when you bend over to your right to stretch out your left side.
The Semispinalis Capitis
This muscle group is responsible for maintaining posture and for movement of the head and the vertebral column.
The Longus Capitis and Longus Colli
- The longus capitis is responsible for quite a bit of the mobility of the neck allowing it to twist and flex.
- The longus colli is responsible neck flexion and neck rotation. It is also used for combining neck flexion and rotation, allows a person to turn their head to the side while their neck is bent forward.
The Interspinales Cervicis
- The interspinal muscles consist of six pairs. They are responsible for extension, flexion, and rotation of vertebral column.
In Simple Terms
So many muscles in such a small area and they’re all so inseparably connected!
When you are complaining about a sore neck you use words like, “My neck hurts!” and not “My longissimus cervicis hurts!”
In simple terms, strained levator scapulae can manifest itself through discomfort in other areas that control the movement of the head and neck.
Avoid Stressing the Levator Scapulae
The best thing you can do to avoid stressing the levator scapulae is to be conscientious of your shoulders in relation to your ears. Keep your neck long! In addition, gentle neck stretches leaning forward and to the sides while taking deep deliberate breaths help relieve temporary stress. Massaging the upper cervicals on either side can also be very beneficial.
While these self-care tips can be used on a daily basis, they are no substitute for regular professional treatments and massage protocols.
Learn from our other Muscle Specific Self Care articles:
Massage therapy in the pelvic region is essential to achieving results for a variety of ailments.
Many people may initially feel uncomfortable with bodywork in these areas and even question the legality of such therapy. For those with such concerns, allow me to quote directly from the Rules and Regulations of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy; Section .0506 (4) Draping Requirements states:
Ensure that the following areas are draped during treatment: the gluteal and genital areas for male and female clients, and the breast area for female clients. With the voluntary and informed consent of the client, the gluteal and breast drapes maybe temporarily moved in order to perform therapeutic treatment to structures in those areas.
While each state may have its own specific wording, the principle is consistent that gluteal and groin work is not only legal but recommended for a variety of conditions as long as the genitals remain draped and untouched.
For those uncomfortable with direct skin contact in this area, bodywork can also be offered through the sheets on these important muscle groups and attachment sites. What is most important in performing this part of Massage Therapy is that the lines of communication between client and therapist remain open and free-flowing.
The pelvis is the literal hinge of the body and affects both upper and lower body wellness. It is imperative as we work with our clients that we find a way inside each individual’s comfort level to adequately work this region.
For those skeptical about the ability of your therapist to work the pelvis inside your comfort level, I would encourage you to find a Massage Therapist who is confident and competent in this area to experience the difference that comprehensive pelvic work brings to your quality of life.
Often times when clients come to me they are in dire straits.
Their pain is so debilitating that they are unable to work, sleep or function normally. This tends to stem from long-term chronic holding patterns and neglect. Usually, when you are at this degree of dysfunction multiple subsequent sessions are required to retrain the body out of this cycle of chronic pain.
When retraining the body. It can get worse before it gets better.
In my experience, retraining the body is like retraining a toddler. It gets worse before it gets better. One of the keys in this retraining is appropriate repetition inside an optimal window.
After the initial session of unwinding and retraining the muscles, it is my experience that the client will feel significant or noticeable relief for the first one to two days. In between days 3 to 5 the symptoms will begin to return as the body reverts back to its old habits. It is most effective to receive a second session in this window between days 3 and 5 to reinforce the new habits of muscle release from the first session. Depending on the severity of the client’s pain, repetitive pair treatments may be required until the body embraces the new pain-free habits over the old chronically painful ones. We schedule these sessions one at a time based on the individual progress of each client.
How long will it take for my body to respond to massage therapy?
There is no way to know how quickly each person will respond because everybody is different. As always, I encourage my clients to listen to their body and book an additional massage session when they feel like they need it.
Occasionally I encounter a skeptic. They may question why I recommend that they come in so often or why they are not getting results as quickly as they hoped.
My response to them is usually this: give me as many months of regular massage treatments as you did years of neglecting your body and THEN tell me that what we’re doing is not working. All things considered, that is a relatively quick reversal of habitually chronic pain.
A Bad Reputation
Pain has gotten a bad rap these days. So many people see pain as a negative force in their life but there are many virtues to this unpleasant experience.
The body is designed to send signals indicating when a course correction is needed. Pain is one of these important signals. Typically pain is a sensation felt to let us know that something is wrong.
We don’t misjudge pain when we accidentally touch something hot or bump into something sharp. We accept that feeling this pain has helped us from burning or puncturing ourselves.
Substituting Pill Popping for Self-Care and Maintenance
So it is, or should be, with the majority of the muscular and structural pain. The biggest problem in today’s society is that clever marketing campaigns have convinced many of us that all we need to get rid of our pain is a pill.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for pain relievers. But routinely substituting pill popping for self-care and maintenance is no way to muddle our way through life.
Don’t Ignore or Mask Your Body’s Pain
When pain is ignored or masked the body begins to deteriorate or worse yet, it stops sending pain signals that have been continually ignored and just does its best to compensate and make do with what it’s being given.
The danger in this is that eventually a straw will break the camel’s back and there will be a catastrophic failure of one kind or another that can be life-altering and even potentially life-threatening.
Give Your Pain the Attention It Deserves
So the next time you feel a twinge, an ache or a pain PLEASE give it the attention it deserves and use one of the many tools out there from Massage to Acupuncture, Exercise to Stretching, Chiropractic to Physical Therapy to identify and resolve the underlying issue(s) that is/are causing your pain. You’ll be glad you did!