It seems amazing that a small muscle in your neck and shoulder, called levator scapulae, causes severe headaches that can totally debilitate a person and continue for hours or days. Pain-killers may mask the pain but the pressure is just too extreme to go away totally even with the strongest of drugs. Yet holding concentrated pressure directly onto the muscle will gradually eliminate the pain totally.
It is common for a person to raise their shoulders when they are under tension, and this is exactly the reason the muscle causes headaches. The levator scapulae muscle originates on your first three cervical vertebrae and inserts onto the top/outer edge of your shoulder blade. When it contracts normally you lift your shoulders, hence it’s nickname “the shrug muscle.”
However, when the levator scapulae is held in the contracted position for an extended period of time (i.e., under stress, or sleeping on a pillow that is either too thick or too thin) it shortens and pulls on the cervical vertebrae, drawing them out to the side and down. Imagine the bone sliding to the right side, causing the LEFT side of the bone to press directly into the spinal cord. Space prohibits describing all the other complications that happen when the levator scapulae gets tight, but consider what is happening to the disk between the vertebrae, and what will happen if several vertebrae are being pulled at the same time, or being pulled on both sides of the neck.
As the bone is pulled down it also presses onto the nerve that comes out of that vertebra, causing pain along the base of your skull, around the eyes and temple area, and also putting pressure on the nerve that goes to your sinuses. I’ve even seen people get sinus relief when tension is released from this muscle.
Using your three middle fingers, place them where your neck meets your shoulder. You’ll find a round bump about the size of an olive. Press down on that bump with as much pressure as you can tolerate. Hold it for 60 seconds and then “walk” you fingers up the back-side of your neck, repeating the treatment each time you find a painful bump.
Just keep pressing into your posterior neck all the way from the base of your skull to the top of your shoulders. If it hurts, you’ve found a spasm that is causing pain. This treatment takes a little practice to get right, but the relief you will receive is worth the effort.
© 2006 Julie Donnelly