This week I had two clients come by with low back pain. Actually, most of my clients came in with low back pain, but these two in particular struck me as a little different. The more we talked during our intake time, the more was revealed. While yes, they were experiencing low back pain, the real problem seemed to be around their neck and shoulder area. Sure enough, when they lay down on my table, there was a distinct and remarkable difference in how their shoulder lined up with their ear. Picture this, look in the mirror and shrug your shoulders. Now relax and leave only one shoulder shrugged. Goodness that’s uncomfortable isn’t it? Now imagine walking around, day in and day out, with one shoulder higher than the other. The great thing about a shoulder that is held in that “shrug” position is that it can be significantly returned to its intended position within a matter of minutes, or at least significantly moved towards it’s anatomically correct location within a session. People usually don’t realize they’re in this position until you point it out to them. Then all the puzzle pieces start falling into place.
Further conversation after this discovery might reveal that yes, they have an aching neck. That while their lower back pain was what they came in for, they now notice that the more acute problem is in their neck and shoulder area. Probing even further I may find out that they have headaches with neck and shoulder pain. Seems like a lot, but we can certainly narrow it down to a common culprit of this muscular discomfort: the levator scapula.
The levator scapulae is in an area that can cause a lot of issues in pain or limited mobility. It’s actually a long muscle of the shoulder girdle with attachments up under your skull, and on the 3rd and 4th cervical vertebrae. It extends down and attaches to your scapula, or what we know as the shoulder blade. So a muscle that runs from your shoulder blade up to the back of your neck, up under your skull? That can certainly spell trouble. Yes, you might have headaches if it’s tight. Can you rotate your head from side to side (looking over each shoulder) with ease? It can certainly limit the rotation of your neck. Since it helps to rotate and stabilize your shoulder blade and helps with rotation and stabilization of the spine, if there’s a problem with it being weak and/ or tight, these are all problems you might experience.
As I said before, the great news is, it’s easy to manipulate the levator scapula and ease its tightness significantly. By working as much of the muscle as possible and making the muscle more pliable, the tensions can be relieved.
So remember: stiffness and limited range of motion, shoulders feeling as if they’re in a permanent shrug, or feeling tight, then seek out assistance. Make sure you tell your therapist all the issues you may be experiencing, even if you think they’re minor or have nothing to do with why you’re there. Everything is connected and can be the difference in finding relief sooner. Now go get a massage.