Levator Scapulae Muscle: Location and Actions

The levator scapulae is a muscle located on each side of the neck, situated posteriorly (in the back). It is named for its action in elevating or “lifting” the scapula and the word levator is the latin word for “to lift”. This muscle is like the over-worked back-stage prop guy of the neck. Always in the shadow of the large sternocleidomastoid and hardly ever getting a moments rest.

See Levator Scapulae Trigger Points

Along with the trapezius, the levator scapulae works to shrug the shoulders by its raising of the medial margin of the scapula. If the scapula are fixed the muscles assist in cervical extension and if used alone flex the neck laterally to one side.

See The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook.

The levator scapula are also involved with the muscles that stabilize the neck in flexion. Along with the semispinalis capitus, ceviscus, splenii and trapezi, the levator scapule has been described as a “checkrein” (a short rein that extends from a horse’s bit to its saddle to keep it from lowering its head) against flexion to keep the head from falling forward when bent downwards. Long periods spent looking down at a book to read or to write or working at a computer can strain this muscle and activate trigger points in it.

levator scapulae muscles
The Levator Scapulae Muscle image by DMA36

The muscles of the neck may be the busiest muscles of the human body. The human neck moves up to 600 times an hour. Whether you are awake or asleep. While the very flexible cervical spine is moving around like this it has a big heavy cantilever sitting on top – your head. 1Berthoz, A., Werner Graf, and Pierre Paul. Vidal. The Head-neck Sensory Motor System. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. Print. Of these muscles, the levator scapulae muscle is one of the most problematic muscles of all. You may not know it but when someone massages your “traps” it is likely the levator scapulae you really want them to dig into and it is very likely when you reach around to dig into that sweet spot at the top of your scapula, although you think you have “sore traps”, what you really have is an angry levator scapula.

Levator Scapulae Origin, Insertion and Action

Origin: Transverse Processes of Cervical Vertebrae C1 through C4 (the C stands for cervical)

Insertion: The medial Border of the scapula between the superior border and the root of the spine.

Action: Elevation of the scapula if the origin (C1-C4) is fixed. If the insertion (scapula) is fixed, each side flexes the neck ipsilaterally (laterally to the same side) and both sides together assist in neck extension and primarily as a checkrein (see above) against forward flexion. The muscle also assists in downward rotation of the scapula so that the glenoid fossa faces caudally (together with the rhomboids major and minor and the latisimus dorsi).

See Levator Scapulae Trigger Points and Self Release

Sources   [ + ]

1. Berthoz, A., Werner Graf, and Pierre Paul. Vidal. The Head-neck Sensory Motor System. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. Print.