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How To Release Levator Scapulae Trigger Points

Levator scapulae
 

Got neck pain but don’t know where it’s coming from? If you’re someone who spends a lot of time hunched over or looking down, it’s likely you’re placing a lot of stress on your levator scapulae muscle and it’s causing you pain. 

Don’t worry, there’s a simple solution and it involves trigger point therapy.

In this post we’ll give a step by step self-release guide on how to relieve levator scapulae pain and prevent it for good.

 

Levator Scapulae Location

The levator scapulae muscle connects the top of the shoulder blade to the neck. The muscle runs behind the upper trapezius along the neck. Levator is Latin for “elevator” and Scapulae for “shoulder blade. Thus, the function of the muscle is to “elevate” the shoulder blade.

Levator scapulae trigger point pattern

levator scapulae trigger points and referred pain pattern [1] - The black dots symbolize trigger point locations


Levator Scapulae Trigger Points

Trigger points are irritable contraction knots in muscles that may lead to intense pain throughout the body.

Trigger Points in the levator scapulae can cause pain and stiffness in the neck and upper back. These trigger points can restrict head tilt and rotation, especially when looking backwards [1].

Trigger points can be released by the hands of a PT or massage therapist, or for self-release options, at home with your hands, a small ball (tennis, lacrosse, golf) or a proper tool.


Levator Scapulae Self-Release

By hand

Use your finger or knuckle to pinpoint the trigger point, move up and down the levator scapulae until you feel a tender spot.

Apply pressure with your fingers and tilt your head down and to the opposite side.

Hold this position for at least 15 seconds, or until you feel the muscle relax.

Trigger point release can take a couple of sets to feel full relief deppending on the severity of the muscle knot.

With a ball

Place a golf or lacrosse ball on the base of the levator scapulae muscle.

Apply pressure against the wall and slowly roll the ball along the muscle.

Continue applying pressure and hold when you begin to feel a tight or contracted spot.

Relax and allow the muscle to sink into the ball and loosen.

Perform this for 1-4 minutes, or until you feel the levator scapulae releasing tightness.

Self-release tool

Massage tool such as the QL Claw or Liba are great for extra assistance and getting in those hard to reach areas.

QL Claw Ramp and Trigger - Quadratus Lumborum Release DeviceLiba back and neck massager


Stretching

Trigger point release followed with stretching will greatly improve the outcome of further relief. Stretching improves range of motion and helps fight against future pain.

Head tilt stretch

1) Rather than turning your head, tilt your head to the opposite side of the pain at a 45-degree angle. 

2) As you do this, lower the shoulder on the other side. You’ll feel a deep stretch starting to happen in your neck and shoulders. 

3) Hold for 20-30 seconds, and repeat as needed. 

Additional levator scapulae stretches —> 8 Levator Scapulae Stretches

 

What causes levator scapulae trigger points?

Poor posture in the shoulders and neck

Unsafe sleeping positions (sleeping on the side with no head support)

Carrying backpacks and purses for extended periods of time (increased contraction overcompensates pulling on the levator scapulae)

Turtle neck syndrome

Dropped shoulder syndrome

Overly sedentary lifestyle


Prevent levator scapulae trigger points

Posture posture posture! (be cognizant of how you’re sitting, sleeping, and exercising)

Avoid heavy one strap bags/backpacks for extended periods of time

Keep lose surrounding muscles (rhomboids and traps)

Avoid vulnerable head positions

Stay active

Avoid lifting heavy objects

Stretch regularly


Posture Correction


Releasing Rhomboid and Upper Trap Muscle

The rhomboid, upper trap, and levator scapulae all work together in movement and can very easily cause each other pain.

When contracting the shoulder blades, both the rhomboids and trapezius work in unison. 

That said, loosening the rhomboid and upper trap muscles will help take some pressure off the levator scapulae.

Same protocol as releasing levator scapulae trigger points, deep tissue massage can be applied to both the rhomboids and trapezius.

If you suffer from a knot behind your shoulder blade, the rhomboid muscle is the likely culprit.

Rhomboid Release

To relieve pain and tightness behind the shoulder blade, massage the rhomboids for two to four minutes with a ball against the wall or a massage tool. Find the most contracted area in the muscle and begin to apply pressure. 

Rhomboid release


FAQ:

What are trigger points?

Trigger points are irritable contraction knots in muscles that may lead to intense pain throughout the body. Trigger points have been associated with back and neck pain, as well as a variety of other health problems. As a result of constant muscle tension, trigger points can cause muscles to tug on surrounding joints to which they connect [1].


What does a trigger point feel like?

A trigger point typically feels as there there's a tightness or tension in the muscle. Pressing on a trigger point may produce pain or discomfort that might extend to other regions of the body - For example in the levator scapulae muscle, the pain would likely radiate to the neck or upper trap. 


What is turtle neck syndrome?

Turtle neck syndrome is neck discomfort caused by extended use of mobile devices, typically referred to as a repetitive stress injury. A common cause of levator scapulae discomfort.

 

How long until trigger points go away?

There is no defined time. Trigger points can stick around for a while, especially if left untreated. Fortunately, you can speed up the process with deep tissue massage, stretching, and improving daily habits. 




Sources:

[1] Davies, Clair, and Amber Davies. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. 3rd ed., New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2013.

[2] Donnelly, Joseph M. Travell, Simons & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed., Wolters Kluwer Health, 2019.

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