Know your Muscles Series – Levator Scapulae.

The name, Levator Scapulae, says it all:  Levare – to lift, and Scapulae – shoulder blades. These are Latin terms.

levator scapulae

The two muscles originate from C1 to C4, which are the first four vertebrae counting from the base of your head downward. If you place four fingertips at the base of your skull, they will roughly cover the first four vertebrae. The vertebrae have small ‘lugs’ on their sides, and it’s on to these that the muscle attaches. The muscle then travels downward to the medial border of the scapula or shoulder blade. The muscles have two primary tasks:
1. Lifting your shoulder blades. (Come on, do it, no one is looking..)
2. They help bend the neck laterally, i.e. if you move your ear toward your arm.

Ever pulled a muscle in your neck and battled to turn your head when driving your car? Your levators would have been involved with that. It’s one of those muscle strains that is difficult to hide, because you look like you are wearing a neck brace and everyone can see that you are in pain.

Some interesting points about the muscle:

  • The muscle is often responsible for headaches at the base of the skull.
  • The muscle can also cause pain on top of the shoulder blade.
  • Other muscles that can tighten in sympathy to the levators are the trapezius, rhomboids, splenius cervices and erector spinae.
  • It is the only neck muscle that moves the shoulder blade.

Things that can tighten the muscle.

1. Holding a phone against your ear by pushing your head toward your shoulder.
2. Stress.
3. Too much time in front of your computer.
4. Sleeping or sitting in a draught.
5. Sleeping without enough pillow support for your head.
6. Cycling, especially on a road bike or time trial bike, (Your body never really intended to support your head like a tortoise).
7. Asthma or upper respiratory infections. These make diaphragmatic breathing more difficult, and thus can necessitate breathing/heaving with the shoulders.
8. Carrying heavy backpacks that pull down on the shoulders.
9. Whiplash.

How to look after the muscle.

1. Give it a regular stretch. Hold for 30 to 35 seconds and slowly stretch until you get to 5/10 in pain.  levator-scapulae-stretch
2. Get it released if it gets tight. Muscles that draw the head and shoulders forward, such as the pectorals, sternocleidomastoid muscles etc, must also be released and lengthened. Give me a call if I can help with that.
3. Become aware of your posture. Sit and stand tall.
4. Limit time at your computer.
5. Cyclists should get their bikes properly set up and should also regularly change position on the bars when cycling. Remember to stand from time to time on the pedals too.
6. Keep it strong. I am a great fan of doing supermen in that they strengthen the entire superficial back line. superman-strengthen

Hope this all helps.


Mike Roscoe.
Mike Roscoe

About sbrsport

SBR Sport specialises in Swimming, Biking and Running. On the medical side we are able to do intensive bike setups, leg assessments and soft tissue release. Follow us on twitter - and/or facebook -
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