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Levator Scapulae and Upper Trapezius - A Common Source of Neck Pain

A very common source of neck and shoulder pain is tension in the levator scapulae muscles and upper fibers of trapezius. This is commonly due inactivity in the muscles of the upper back (lowers and middle finbers of trapezius as well as the erector spinae muscle group of the thoracic spine).

Levator scapulae is a slender muscle that originates from the upper cervical spine (C1, C2, C3 and C4) and runs down into the upper back to insert onto the superior angle of the shoulder blade (scapula).

Upper trapezius originates from the upper cervical spine as well and inserts onto the the end of the collar bone (clavicle), the acromion and the spine of the scapulae.

Tension in levator scapulae and/or upper trapezius can place abnormal pressure on the joints in the cervical spine resulting in neck pain. The muscle themselves can become sore leading to pain in their respective muscle bellies. All of this can result in mild to intense pain in the top of the shoulder leading up into the neck. This can also cause stiff neck and shoulder movements.

Physiotherapy treatment involves:

- manual therapy to ease tension in the joints of the neck

- soft tissue massage/ dry needling to help relax upper traps and levator scapulae

- exercises to improve muscle activity in the upper back may also be prescribed to prevent reoccurrence.

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