Oh My Aching Neck and Shoulders!

Woman holding back in pain

Perhaps the number one reason people seek massage therapy is to help relieve pain in their neck and shoulders. There are several muscles that comprise this region: scalenes, splenii, trapezius, and many more. Today we are going to look at the mighty levator scapula, so called because it elevates our scapulae, or shoulder blades. It also is responsible for neck rotation to the left and right (checking traffic during a lane change), as well as craning our ear to our shoulder (aka, lateral flexion, as in holding the telephone while still typing on the keyboard - you've never done that, have you?).

Levator scapula is a mighty beast, and literally, a pain in the neck. It's because we're upright and forward-facing individuals - this causes chronic tightness in the neck and shoulder area, particularly when we are sitting still for most of the day. So, it's safe to say that this muscle is supposed to be tight. In fact, the only time I've felt one completely lax is on an individual who was in a really bad car accident.

That said, the muscles surrounding levator scapula generally should not be chronically tight, and since the upper back/shoulder area is poorly vascularized (has a proportionately low blood supply in relation to other body parts), when something does tighten up, we notice it rather quickly. Since we use our neck quite a bit to turn our heads, or talk on the phone, check the blind spot in traffic, look down and see if we can find our toes, etc., these muscles get used a lot, and occasionally, some will "stick" or adhere together in small parts. Think of these adhesions as traffic jams - blood supply slows down, oxygen can't get in, and CO2 can't get out, among other things.

Listen to your mother to keep your neck and shoulder pain to a minimum! Good posture is a priceless and very affordable way to keep pain at bay. Those of us who sit at a computer all day are prone to having chronically rolled shoulders and a bit of a hunch back - be conscious about sitting up straight! A good way to do this without remembering is to replace your chair with a stability ball - it forces you to keep moving and is excellent for building and keeping a strong core (weak cores can contribute to most back pain). And remember, massage therapy helps loosen up adhesions and helps muscle fibers align properly, and more importantly, it helps you feel your best!