Tightness in the neck is something almost everyone has experienced. If you work long hours at a computer, you are no stranger to feeling stiff in your upper back and neck.
It’s so easy to slouch forward. You notice your shoulders are rounded and elevated, your head is jutting forward, and your core is almost completely disengaged.
This is MOST people’s posture when they sit and work at a desk.
Because of this, it is likely that tightness will develop in the musculature in the back of the neck.
There are plenty of neck stretches you can do, but the Levator Scap stretch I want to show you is quite effective and is one that most people do incorrectly.
The Levator Scapulae can be one of the most problematic neck muscles because it impacts so many joint motions.
It can negatively affect your neck and shoulder motion if it gets tight and overactive. I will talk about the effects of this later in this article!
The Levator Scap runs from the upper medial border of the scapula to the first four cervical vertebrae.
It’s primary function is rotating the neck up and to the same side, but the way it moves the scapula is typically the most problematic.
Since this muscle attaches to the scapula, tightness here can cause the shoulder blade to elevate and downwardly rotate. When you reach overhead, the scapula is supposed to do just the opposite.
Restrictions into scapular upward rotation during overhead press can be a source of shoulder pain, and a tight Levator Scapulae can be the cause.
When we sit slouched over with our head jutting forward, we are changing the optimal length of multiple muscles.
If a muscle becomes too shortened or lengthened, the way the brain communicates to that muscle is different. Your ability activate it at the appropriate times is impaired.
With the head forward and the shoulders elevated, the Levator Scap is being maximally shortened! Over time, your posterior neck musculature will adaptively shorten and your anterior neck musculature will get overstretched.
So what does that mean?
Your neck is now chronically in an extended position, and your shoulder blade is spending lots of time elevated and downwardly rotated. Neither of these positions are optimal and can lead to pain and injuries over time.
With any stretch, you need to determine what muscle you want to target, it’s attachment sites, and what the muscle actually does.
Many people know the basic movement of the Levator Scap stretch, but there is one component I recommend adding in order to get the best stretch possible.
Start by sliding your arm up a wall, making sure you don’t elevate your shoulders as a compensation. This will upwardly rotate the scapula, which will already add some stretch on the Levator Scap.
Then turn your head down and away, adding slight overpressure with your other arm. This will stretch the muscle from both attachment sites.
Try it with and without the wall slide, and feel the difference it makes!
Here is a quick video demonstration I made to show you all of the steps of the Levator Scap stretch.
Overhead athletes and regular gym-goers alike need to address tightness of the Levator Scap.
As we reach overhead our shoulder blade needs to upwardly rotate. This motion is what a tight Levator Scap limits!
If we continue to do lots of overhead activities without the proper scapular motion, the chance for injury is much higher! Things like subacromial impingement, neck pain, and thoracic spine pain are all linked to this movement restriction.
This 1 minute video helps give some visuals to the actual shoulder motion needed when we reach overhead.
Doctor of Physical Therapy Candidate, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Certified Personal Trainer
8 Unconventional Exercises For Strong and Healthy Shoulders
4 Reasons to Cut Shrugs from Your Workouts
Truth About What The Core Muscles Are and How To Train Them
The Huge Benefits of Training Serratus Anterior
How to Improve Your Bench Press and Save Your Shoulders
Stop Foam Rolling the IT Band
3 Guaranteed Ways To Improve Squat Form
Foam Rolling Techniques For Better Performance