The muscles in the body help provide motion and protect the skeletal joints from harm. Each muscle group has ligaments, tissues, and muscle fibers that retract, stretch, and contract the body while helping the host to do everyday movements, breath, digest food, stabilize, and even rest. When a person is dealing with pain from a traumatic event or making repetitive motions, it can affect the muscles over time. Factors like not drinking enough water, constantly looking down on the phones, and being hunched over can cause strain on the muscles, causing overlapping pain on top of other chronic issues that may develop. When the muscles begin to cause pain along the shoulders and neck, it can become a risk of developing trigger points in the levator scapulae muscles. Today’s article examines the levator scapulae muscles, how trigger points affect these muscles, and how treatments can help manage the trigger points on the levator scapulae muscles. We refer patients to certified providers who specialize in musculoskeletal treatments to aid individuals suffering from trigger points associated with the neck and shoulders affecting the levator scapulae muscles. We also guide our patients by referring them to our associated medical providers based on their examination when appropriate. We ensure to find that education is the solution to asking our providers insightful questions. Dr. Jimenez DC observes this information as an educational service only. Disclaimer
Have you been dealing with pain along the neck or shoulders? Do you feel stiffness when turning your head from side to side? Or do you feel tenderness in the base of your neck and shoulders? Many individuals with shoulder and neck pain risk developing trigger points along the levator scapulae. The levator scapulae muscles originate from the posterior tubercles of the C1 through C4 vertebrae in the neck that is between the superior angle and the root of the scapulae spine. This superficial muscle’s primary function is to elevate the scapulae or the shoulder blades while working together with the trapezius and rhomboid muscles to assist the movement. The levator scapulae muscles also assist in providing neck extension, ipsilateral rotation, and lateral flexion. When pathologies like fibromyalgia, levator scapulae syndrome, or cervical myofascial pain begin to affect the levator scapulae muscles, the symptoms can potentially involve the shoulders and neck to cause referred pain to the upper extremities.
Many individuals with shoulder and neck pain have described radiating pain from their neck to their shoulders. Known as referred pain, the pain is located in one area of the body but in a different location. Studies reveal that when pain radiates from the neck and shoulders, any movements that are overstretching the levator scapulae can aggravate overlapping symptoms on the affected side. This allows small nodules to form along the levator scapulae muscle fibers, causing trigger points to affect the shoulder and neck muscles.
Trigger point associated with the levator scapulae muscles causes the individual to have pain-like symptoms in the neck that causes muscle stiffness. This causes an emphasis on referred pain symptoms from the levator scapulae, like neck tension and restriction of range of motion on the neck. Studies reveal that pain over the superior angle of the levator scapulae is a common musculoskeletal disorder that is often accompanied by radiating pain on the neck, head, and shoulders. Some of the ways that trigger points form along the levator scapulae muscle can be due to ordinary factors like:
Some of these factors above can shorten the levator scapulae muscle and restrict muscle movement to provide a full range of motion for the head and neck to turn. To that point, treatments are available to help loosen up and stretch the levator scapulae muscles to allow rotation and flexion on the neck and shoulders.
Have you been dealing with stress that is affecting your neck and shoulders? Have you been dealing with neck stiffness when turning your head? Or have you been feeling muscle tenderness between the neck and shoulders? Some of these symptoms are associated with trigger points affecting the levator scapulae muscles between the neck and shoulder. The video above overviews common trigger points and how they affect the levator scapulae, causing shoulder and neck pain. Since the levator scapulae muscles lay behind the trapezius muscle, studies reveal that trigger points or myofascial pain syndrome can cause hyperirritability in the muscle tissues and affect mobility functions in the nerve ends. Even though referred pain affects the neck and shoulder of the body, treatments are available to manage trigger points on the levator scapulae and relieve neck and shoulder pain.
When there is trigger point pain affecting the levator scapulae, some common complaints that many individuals often complain about are neck and shoulder pain. However, various ways can alleviate the pain symptoms from the neck and shoulders while managing trigger points associated with the levator scapulae. Studies reveal that stretching the levator scapulae muscle in a seated position can improve muscle length along the levator scapulae and the cervical range of motion. Stretching the levator scapulae muscle can help reduce the pain along the levator muscle. To that point, it even helps reduce muscle imbalances and movement dysfunction along the cervical joints. Many individuals are referred to pain specialists like chiropractors by their doctors to reduce pain and functionality disability in the neck and realign the spine to loosen up the stiff muscles caused by subluxation. Realigning the cervical spine and stretching can reduce future trigger points and reduce pain symptoms from affecting the muscle.
The levator scapulae muscles in the body provide movement functionality to the neck and shoulders. The levator scapulae work together with the trapezius and rhomboid muscles to elevate the shoulder blades and assist with neck extension, ipsilateral rotation, and lateral flexion. When pathologies affect the levator scapulae muscles, they can develop trigger point pain along the muscle and cause neck and shoulder pain. The factors that cause trigger point pain can either be ordinary or traumatic and cause referred pain to the neck and shoulders. Fortunately, treatments like stretching and adjustments can help reduce the pain and loosen up stiff muscles along the levator scapulae. This will allow a cervical range of motion back to the neck and shoulder and elongate the levator scapulae.
Akamatsu, Flávia Emi, et al. “Trigger Points: An Anatomical Substratum.” BioMed Research International, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4355109/.
Henry, James P, and Sunil Munakomi. “Anatomy, Head and Neck, Levator Scapulae Muscles.” In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL), StatPearls Publishing, 13 Aug. 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553120/.
Jeong , Hyo-Jung, et al. “Stretching Position Can Affect Levator Scapular Muscle Activity, Length, and Cervical Range of Motion in People with a Shortened Levator Scapulae.” Physical Therapy in Sport : Official Journal of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 4 Apr. 2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28578252/.
Kulow, Charlotte, et al. “Levator Scapulae and Rhomboid Minor Are United.” Annals of Anatomy = Anatomischer Anzeiger : Official Organ of the Anatomische Gesellschaft, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2022, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35367623/.
Menachen, A, et al. “Levator Scapulae Syndrome: An Anatomic-Clinical Study.” Bulletin (Hospital for Joint Diseases (New York, N.Y.)), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1993, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8374486/.
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The information herein on "Trigger Points Associated With Levator Scapulae" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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