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Hurts to turn your head? Fix it!

The levator scapulae is usually the culprit when it hurts to turn your head. Here is what to do about it.

Anatomy of a muscle

The levator scapulae muscle originates on the top four cervical vertebrae and inserts into the upper part of the shoulder blade. It is a thin, flat muscle located just below the upper part of the trapezius. It rotates and tilts the head. When both sides of the muscle work together, they raise the shoulder girdle and bend the head backward.

Causes of tightness

The muscle is shortened by bad posture (forward shoulder), by permanently raising the shoulder girdle, or by holding a phone between the ear and the shoulder. Since the levator scapulae raises the shoulder girdle, it also works statically in times of stress since the shoulders are often raised in response to tension.

Symptoms of Tightness:

  • Difficulty rotating the head

  • Difficulty placing the chin on the chest

  • Headache at the back of the head

  • Kink in the neck

Flexibility Test

  • You should be able to rotate the head approximately 90 degrees to the side

  • You should be able to bend the neck between 35 to 45 degrees to the side

If you have failed the test or have pain or stiffness in your neck or, more importantly, you have a kink in your neck, the next steps should provide some instant relief.

The Fix

  1. Stand with your back against a wall

  2. Take a tennis ball, lacrosse ball or soft ball and place it between the wall and your back just above your scapulae on one side of your spine.

  3. Step away from the wall about 6 to 10 inches or until you feel a pain threshold of between 5 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, ten being excruciating. The point here is to cause enough tension on the muscle to release trigger points.

  4. Stay on this spot between 30 seconds to 2 minutes or until you feel the muscle release.


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