Muscle Self Care: Levator Scapulae

Levator Scapulae Neck Pain

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

Splenius Cervicis, Splenius Capitis, Longissimus CervicisThese 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 Capitissemispinalis 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

Longus Capitis 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 CervicisInterspinales-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:

Specific Muscle Self Care: Masseter Muscles

Muscles of the Skull Masseter Muscle

The masseter muscle is the facial muscle that is largely responsible for chewing foods. It connects the lower jaw bone and the cheekbone. The masseter muscles consist of two tiers; the superficial and deep parts.

The Function of the Masseter

During chewing, the masseter is assisted by three other muscles: the temporalis, medial pterygoid, and lateral pterygoid. The four muscles work together to pull the jaw down and back up again. The masseter is the key muscle that pulls the mandible upward.

Not only is the masseter responsible for chewing, but it also bears the conscious or subconscious burden of teeth grinding and jaw clenching. The amount of stress put on the masseter muscle leads to common ailments such as headaches and TMJ dysfunction. 

Headaches can originate from just about any muscle or combination of muscles in the head or neck. 

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint and like any joint can be aggravated by its adjacent musculature. While there are certainly joint issues that can cause TMJ many cases result from a muscular aggravation of the masseter.

Accessing the Masseter Muscle

Access to this muscle is simple given its orientation to the hands. To work the masseter, start at the attachments just below the cheekbone and work your way down. Then massage the attachments on the jaw bone and work your way up. Finally, gently apply pressure to the belly or middle of the muscle working out any areas of tenderness as needed. If you have any questions about where this muscle is located, simply clench your jaw for a moment and it will stick out like a sore thumb.

It is impossible to completely relax when you are performing any muscular self-care. So while it is always helpful it’s no substitute for professional treatment and a regular massage maintenance plan.

Learn from our other Muscle Specific Self Care articles: