Levator Scapulae Syndrome

The levator scapulae muscle extends along the back of the neck, with the function of assisting with various neck, arm and shoulder movements such as shrugging. When the muscle becomes rigid this can cause pain and reduced motion in the area.

Symptoms of Levator Scapulae Syndrome

Sharp pain in and around the neck, often radiating upwards and leading to headaches. The neck area may also become noticeably inflamed. It is not unusual to experience a prolonged feeling of discomfort in the area. Movement can be restricted in the neck and shoulders, with pain and stiffness worsening when attempting many everyday motions. The syndrome most frequently affects the left side of the body.

Causes of Levator Scapulae Syndrome

In athletes and others involved with physical activities, the most prominent cause of levator scapulae syndrome is overuse. This can arise due to multiple factors. Failure to warm up correctly before activity or to stretch and strengthen the neck muscles regularly is a common contributing factor. Another is to train for extensive periods when the muscles have become noticeably weakened. Similar damage can be caused due to greatly increasing your exercise program very quickly, as this does not allow the muscles sufficient time to adjust. Outside of sport, the syndrome can be caused by maintaining bad posture, usually as a result of sitting for long periods such as in a desk job. Prior injury to the shoulders or neck, or any pre-existing deficiency in those areas, can also put you at higher risk.

Treatment for Levator Scapulae Syndrome

It is a good idea to see a doctor about the injury as they can ascertain the seriousness of the injury and identify if there are any complications, such as with vertebrae or the spine of the scapula. In general, levator scapulae syndrome can often be treated conservatively, first by ceasing any physical activity that could exacerbate the condition and taking rest until the symptoms have diminished. Limiting arm and shoulder movements can be beneficial. Anti-inflammatory pain medication can help to reduce aching and any swelling, while icing the area approximately 3 times per day can provide non-medicinal relief.

In some cases there might be a need to correct a component in the spine of the scapula with a chiropractic procedure. Rare cases can require surgery.

Rehabilitation of Levator Scapulae Syndrome

As long as there are no complications and you rest appropriately, the injury should soon begin to clear up. When you are pain free, you will be able to commence physical therapy with the doctor's approval. This stage is important for gradually replacing the lost strength in the neck and building up flexibility in the area before attempting to return to activity. Your doctor or a physiotherapist can assist with recommending suitable neck and shoulder exercises, while massage can also be helpful.

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