Levator Scapulae Mobilization

If I had the power to re-create the Human Body, do you want to know the ONE MUSCLE I would leave out??? That’s right you guessed it – the LEVATOR SCAPULAE! The levator scapulae has got to be the single most annoying and most painful muscle out there. It’s literally SO SMALL, yet is can inflict SO MUCH PAIN AND DISCOMFORT on your neck and shoulders!

A plethora of things can cause or contribute to levator scapulae pain, including but not limited to whiplash, forward head posture, working/sleeping with the head turned for too long or holding a phone between your shoulder and ear for too long. Or, as highlighted in yesterday’s post, simply upper trap overuse – and consequently levator scapular overuse as it is a scapular elevator as well – can lead to the development of trigger points which can literally leave you in 10/10 pain. If your think you have levator scapulae or upper trap pain and are looking for some soft tissue work, give this self-release a try.

Using the @mobloko trigger point ball, place it on your neck/shoulder region where you feel your greatest discomfort and lay down on it. This pressure alone may already be enough. If you need more pressure, SLOWLY raise your arm. As you raise your arm, the pressure will INCREASE. Try holding the position for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat 10-15 times per spot. Be gentle with it!

Levator Scapulae Stretch
HOW: Begin this exercise upright. Keep the hand of the side to be stretched behind your back. Bring your nose towards the opposite armpit (here I am showing my nose going to the Left armpit). This requires you to flex your head forward, sidebend away, and rotate away from the side you want to stretch.


FEEL: The levator scapulae (muscle on the back outside of your neck) being stretched.


COMPENSATION: letting the shoulder girdle elevate on the side of the neck that is being stretched.
Neck And Mid Back Motions

Follow along to learn about the movements of your neck and mid back!

Seated Cat Cow
HOW: Get set up seated upright with your hands supported on your thighs. Begin the exercise by rounding your upper body and head/neck forward, letting your spine bend forward as your hands slide down your thighs. Reverse the motion to sit upright nice and tall and let your back/spine arch and extend. Repeat


FEEL: This should feel like a global stretch to your upper/lower and mid back depending how far you move. As you round, you should feel a stretch in your back, as you arch and squeeze your shoulder blades back, you may feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. This should feel like a gentle motion that you’re in control of.


COMPENSATION: Limit movement to your upper body, keep your lower body still.
Seated Thoracic Rotation
HOW: Get set up seated upright with your hands supported on your thighs. Begin the exercise by rotating your upper body side-to-side and repeat, listen to the video for tips and cues. As you rotate your body to the right, push your left shoulder blade forward and squeeze your right shoulder blade back.


FEEL: This should feel like a global stretch to your upper/lower and mid-back depending on how far you rotate. You may feel a stretch in between your shoulder blades. This should feel like a gentle motion that you’re in control of.


COMPENSATION: Limit movement to your upper body, keep your lower body still. Try to perform strict rotation versus bending forward/backward/sideways.
Thoracic Spine Extension - Towel
HOW: Lay face down with a towel around your mid back. Hold onto both ends of the towel with your hands and slowly push up into a press up or hip supported upward dog position. You should be hinging at the area in which the towel is over. You can move the towel through your mid back region and repeat this movement.


FEEL: You will feel the mid back stretching with this exercise, specifically the area the towel is over.


COMPENSATION: Avoid arching with your lower back and neck region.
FMS Quadruped Thoracic Spine Rotation
HOW:  Begin by positioning yourself on both knees, sitting back on your heels with your feet straight and thighs together, arms on the ground and your elbows touching the top of your knees. From this position, place on hand behind your head. Rotate your upper back and try to point that elbow up to the sky. You can also place that hand behind your back and rotate that way. 


FEEL: You should feel a stretch in you mid back. 


COMPENSATION: Avoid side bending as you rotate. You want pure rotation of the spine.
Upper Trap Relaxation Technique

Try this exercise if your neck and upper traps feel tight!

According to Cools et al. 2014, “the prevalence of neck and shoulder pain is known to increase with computer workload. There is a strong relationship between chronic neck and shoulder pain and dysfunction of the scapula. The scapula functions as a ‘bridge’ between the shoulder complex and the cervical spine and plays a very important role in providing both mobility and stability to the neck/shoulder region.” According to Bogduk 2009, “noxious stimulation of the atlanto-occipital and lateral atlanto-axial joints, the C2–3 zygapophysial joint, and the C2–3 intervertebral disc can produce pain in the occipital region.” We also know the upper trapezius muscle originates on the occipital bone and upper cervical C1-C3 spinous processes. Taking this information into consideration, it would be wise to address the upper trapezius for trigger points, muscle length deficits, and/or overuse.

To Perform…

1) Lay on your stomach and get into a comfortable position. Consider a pillow under your stomach, or under your chest, if your spine goes into excessive lordosis or kyphosis when you lay on your stomach.

2) Rest your forehead on your heads and relax your arms on the table. Your head and arms should be fully supported so that you can relax.

3) Push your hands into the table and pull your shoulder blades down towards your feet.

4) Hold this position for 5s, and repeat for a total of 5 reps.

5) Your neck and the region of the upper traps should be relaxed while you perform this exercise.

The goal of this exercise is to primarily relax the upper traps. To promote muscular inhibition, you want to cue the shoulder blades into depression and downward rotation as this is the opposite muscle action of the upper traps. Keep your neck ‘long and relaxed’ during this exercise. If you feel your head rising off the table and wanting to extend, take a break and try again with less force.


Cools et al 2014. “Rehabilitation of scapular dyskinesis: from the office worker to the elite overhead athlete”

Nikolai Bogduk, Jayantilal Govind 2009. “Cervicogenic headache: an assessment of the evidence on clinical diagnosis, invasive tests, and treatment”