Neck Muscles Most Responsible For Your Stiff Neck And Trigger Points: The Levator Scapulae & Trapezius
Posted Aug 16 2009 10:23pm
You wake up with a stiff neck after sleeping on the couch the night before and find that you cannot turn your head- what could be causing this inability to turn your head, stiffness and overall pain in your neck? Today I want to discuss a muscle called the levator scapulae and also revisit a muscle we have talked about previously: the trapezius muscle.
That dreaded stiff neck is most often caused by a neck muscle called the levator scapulae. This muscle attaches to the sides of the 1st 4 cervical vertebrae (c1, c2, c3, and c4) or transverse processes and connects to the top of the shoulder blade or scapula. This muscle is responsible for allowing you to turn your head. When there are muscle spasms, or trigger points a loss in range of motion and stiffness of the neck can occur. The pain pattern of this muscle is usually where the neck and shoulder meet and along the inside of the shoulder blade.
To stretch the levator scapulae muscle laterally tilt your head and turn slightly to the opposite direction you are laterally bending to. It also helps to also flex the head slightly forward. To increase the stretch reach up with the hand (on the side you are tilting towards and give a gentle pull on the head laterally and slightly forward. For example, to stretch the left levator scapulae- tilt your head right, turn or rotate back to the left 30 to 40 degrees, and pull your head slightly forward and to the right.
The muscle most responsible for trigger points is your upper trapezius muscle. This muscle attaches from the back of the neck vertebrae, out to the clavicle. To stretch the upper trapezius it’s similar to the levator scapulae except you turn the head in the same direction you are lateral flexing.
For instance, to stretch the left upper trap: tilt or laterally bend the head to the right, turn your head 30 to 40 degrees to the right and flex the head slightly forward.
The trapezius pain pattern is most often up the back of the neck on one side or the other and sometimes up into the temple, orbit (eye), or angle of the jaw.
The trigger points in the trapezius are located above the levator scaupulae in the belly of muscle that is between your neck and shoulder. You can often reach one arm across and squeeze the belly of the trapezius muscle where trigger points are most often found.