We’ve all had it, neck pain, it dominates so many people’s lives and seems to be inescapable. It radiates into your head clouding your thinking, it alters your shoulder movement, it changes your quality of sleep and so much more…
Whilst there are so many causes to neck pain, there is a little secret that so many people fail to have corrected, a secret little muscle that is responsible for countless cases of neck and shoulder pain, a muscle that seems to be closely associated cervical disc damage.
But before I tell you what it is, I want you to know just how many people we see with this dysfunction. People who have had pain for years, people who have just woken up in pain and people who have been treated by countless practitioners without any help are just some of the people we see suffer from this issue.
It frustrates me constantly for so many people to be booked in for surgical procedures who have failed to have this simple little problem checked. I’ve even seen people with acute damaged cervical discs with muscle weaknesses as a result respond tremendously well and avoid surgery through the correction of this simple imbalance!
The muscle I’m referring to is the levator scap. A unique little muscle that runs from the tip of your shoulder blade to the base of your neck.
Whilst it is quite a small, forgotten muscle, it has several important actions. Firstly, it stabilizes the scapular allowing for stability and movement when required. Next is helps elevate the scapular and shoulder complex allow us a full range of motion of our arm. Finally, it also helps extend and stabilize the neck.
When the levator scap becomes dysfunctional it results in changes to both your neck and shoulder. Everyone experiences this differently, but here’s a couple key things most people say.
The shoulder – The most common complaint we hear is clicking in the shoulder or weak/numb feeling in the hands in the morning. This generally results from the shoulder blade rotating whilst weight is on it compressing the neurovascular supply to the arm.
Over longer time frames this can result in inflammation and potentially increase the risk of other disorders such as rotator cuff tears and frozen shoulders.
The Neck – Neck problems are significant with dysfunction. From acute neck pain in the morning to chronic disc issues, the levator scap is critical in stabilizing the neck.
Given we have one levator scap muscle on our left and another on our right, when one becomes dysfunctional this results in cervical spine rotation loading the disc creating irritation.
What to do
There are many ways to test and protect you levator scap. Here’s our top tips:
Grip strength –If laying on your shoulder decreases your grip strength chances are you’ve got a problem.
Hand sensation – If you wake up in the morning with numb or weak hands or you struggle to get your neck comfortable at night no matter how many pillows you try you’ve probably got a problem
Neck Pain – If you’re waking up with neck pain chances are you’re not getting enough support from either your mattress or your pillow creating the dysfunction
The cause of levator scap problems can be hard to find and requires specific treatment methods designed to stabilize the muscle and find the specific cause dysfunction.