I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear that the primary function of the levator scapulae is to elevate your scapula. On the other hand, I do think you’ll be surprised to learn that, despite its authoritative name, the levator scapulae is not the primary muscle to lift the scapula. Instead, it works with the upper trapezius to complete this task.
Here’s more on a muscle that can be a real pain in the neck.
The origin of the levator scapulae is on the transverse processes of the first four cervical vertebrae. As you may recall from my post about the cervical spine, the transverse processes are the parts of the vertebra that stick out to the right and left.
Levator scapulae inserts on the scapula’s vertebral border between the superior angle and the scapular spine. This means that this muscle inserts on the edge of the scapula that’s closest to the spine right above the bony ridge on the scapula known as the scapular spine.
As you can probably guess from the name of this muscle, levator scapulae elevates the scapula. This isn’t its only function, though. When it moves insertion to origin, it also helps retract the scapula. It helps bend the neck laterally (like when your ear lowers toward your shoulder) and extend it (like when you look at the ceiling) when it moves origin to insertion.
Even though this muscle’s name would imply that it’s the primary muscle to elevate your scapula, that’s not the case. This muscle works with the upper trapezius to elevate and retract the scapula.
When the levator scapulae gets weak or tight, it can cause neck pain or stiffness and headaches.
Restoring or Maintaining Health
If you think that you have inflamed or injured your levator scapulae, call your doctor. Your doctor can order the appropriate imaging, therapy, and medicine necessary to help you recover quickly.
Here are some suggestions for those who are wanting to know how to keep this muscle toned and healthy.
- You’re engaging your levator scapulae in most of the yoga poses that involve arm binds. At yoganatomy.com, they recommend Marichyasana C with the arm bind to engage the levator scapulae.
- Locust pose.
- Any Pilates exercises that involve scapular placement like Scapular elevation and depression or Scapular protraction and retraction.
- To stretch the levator scapulae, allow your chin to lower toward your chest. Some exercises that create this stretch are Roll over and Jack knife.
To learn more about this muscle, I consulted The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Recently, the book was revised and is in its third edition. It is available on Amazon.
Also, I consulted my Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. If you really enjoy anatomy and want a tool to help you locate specific muscles correctly, I highly recommend these flash cards. I turn to them any time a client comes in with pain.
What’s your favorite way to strengthen your levator scapulae? Let us know in the comments below.
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