Today I’m going to tell you a little story that happened this morning and made me create this article. My neighbour texts me at 7am to ask if I could help him, he woke up stiff and with a lot of pain in his neck. So I told him to come and after a quick examination it was easy to realise that his Levator Scapulae was injured.
The Levator Sapulae is a muscle that mainly elevates the Scapula (shoulder blade). Its attachments are the transverses processes of C1 to C4 (first cervical vertebra to fourth cervical vertebra) to the medial border of the scapula, from the superior angle to the root of the spine of the scapula.
As I’ve mentioned before it elevates the scapula but also extends the neck (at the spinal joints) and laterally flexes the neck (at the spinal joints). This muscle lies under the trapezius muscle in its inferior portion, and is deep to some neck muscles on its superior portion, the splenius capitis and the sternocleidomastoid.
So back to my miserable neighbour and his sore neck, I asked him what happened, and he said “oh, I think its my pillow”. I know he does a lot of desk work so his neck gets very tight, and maybe a pillow that is too high could make the situation worse. The pain was shooting from the top of the neck down to his shoulder.
He couldn’t turn his head to one side and it was hard to look down and up. No wonder why, those are all the actions the levator scapula does. But why does it happen?
Computer work is usually the reason. Sitting at a desk all day we get tired and after repeating the same thing over and over again, day after day, week after week, your muscles eventually will get used to that posture and you start losing mechanical functionality. The muscles in the front of the neck (scalenes) and in the top of the neck (sub occipitals) become short, the pectoralis muscles (chest), biceps, deltoids (shoulder), sub scapularis and serratus anterior (under the arm and around the ribs) all get tight.
He probably dehydrates in the office and that just makes the situation worse. Then no stretching, poor technique when exercising, unstable shoulders, etc, etc, etc… Eventually the body gives up, one muscle fails, the rest of the muscles in that area will have to compensate. If the levator scapulae gets an intense pull, the compensating muscles try to protect it and go into a strong spasm, then there you go, injury, soreness, stiffness, frustration, pain killers, etc.
Some of the things you have to know when it happens.
1st: If it hurts when you cough or sneeze, you may have pulled a rib or a vertebra out of place. You need to see an Osteopath.
2nd: If there is only restriction in range of motion and a lot of pain, it will take a long time to heal and you should avoid heavy exercises.
3rd: GO GET A MASSAGE!
4th: follow up with stretches – this is a very good one: sitting on a chair, the hand on the injured side goes behind your back, shoulder down, and the head should go to the opposite shoulder.
5th: if there is stiffness in the morning, there may be a bit of inflammation in the joint, ice for 20 min, 5min on, 5 min off. At night you can use a bit of heat to relax the muscles and bring blood to the area to heal the tissues.
6th: If your pillow is too high, try and get one that is low, like the dodgy ones for kids. You can also try and sleep without a pillow for a couple of nights.
7th: Meditation can also be good for people who can’t relax when they go to bed. Meditating when you go to bed and when you wake up can help you let go of emotions that keep your body tense.