The Story Behind Your Stiff Neck


If you’ve ever suffered with a stiff neck, chances are your Levator Scapulae muscle had something to do with it. Trigger points (tender contraction knots in muscle fibers) in the fibers of thi smuscle commonly restrict normal turning of the head, and cause pain in the areas illustrated below.


 Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual Volume 1 by Travell & Simons’, p. 501

Any activity that tips or tilts the neck in a way that shortens the fibers of this muscle for an extended period of time can result in Levator trigger points. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Sleeping with the neck tilted to one side for much of the night;
  • Secretarial/deskwork generally;
  • Walking with a cane that is too long;
  • Sitting in one direction with the head & neck turned in another for extended periods of time.

Stress strongly impacts this muscle as well. We instinctively respond to perceived threats by dropping our heads and raising our shoulders in a ducking motion. In today’s world, traffic jams, financial worries, interpersonal conflicts, chronic pain and more, can trip off the the body’s freeze-fight-or-flight response. Since this muscle contracts every time it moves the shoulder blade towards the ear, you can appreciate how it could become fatigued and overworked when constant stress is in the mix.

Therapeutic release of the trigger points in the Levator Scapulae, as well as other inter-related muscles, helps to quickly relieve the problem. Untreated muscles can seem to recover with the passage of time, but often leave residual stiffness and reduced mobility behind. Over time, this can translate into chronically-restricted neck motion. You might believe that “you just have to live with it” but most of the time this is simply not the case.

Proper self-care can also alleviate pain by releasing and lengthening the muscle fibers. While it is best to learn and practice self-treatments with a trained practitioner first, one technique described by Janet Travell, MD can be summarized as follows:

  1. Sit on a stool or chair (under a running shower is best);
  2. Drop shoulder on the affected side, let that arm hang free, and relax the neck as fully as possible;
  3. Use the opposite hand to help GENTLY turn the head to the unaffected side and down towards the armpit to take up the slack in the muscle. At the same time, the free arm reaches towards the floor for more of a stretch. (see illustration)
  4. Repeat, with varying degrees of head rotation to release the muscle fibers of all directions.

If you are struggling with this or any other muscular pain and restrictions, and you’re ready to make a change, we will happily help you construct a health improvement plan tailored to your particular issue. Contact me to schedule an appointment today!

You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.

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