Strengthening Exercises for the Levator Scapulae
Levator scapulae weakness can limit your ability to perform common daily activities, such as shrugging your shoulders or carrying heavy items. Strengthening exercises for the levator scapulae might help improve your posture and relieve pain symptoms associated with muscular imbalances. Other supporting structures might become tight and painful by compensating for levator scapulae weakness.
Strengthening exercises for the levator scapulae can help reverse or prevent postural problems associated with weakness in the muscle, including kyphosis. Kyphosis is a postural condition that affects the upper back and neck. Visible symptoms of kyphosis include a curved upper back, rounded shoulders, protracted shoulder blades and a chin that extends forward. Levator scapulae weakness might cause burning or aching in your upper back and neck. Prolonged standing or sitting worsens the pain, particularly when leaning forward. The pain might completely subside when you start moving around.
Strengthening exercises for the levator scapula involve particular joint movements that activate the muscle, including scapula elevation, lateral cervical spine flexion and cervical spine extension. Scapula elevation is a superior movement of the shoulder girdle that elevates your shoulder blades directly upward. Lateral flexion of the cervical spine involves tilting your neck sideways toward either shoulder. Cervical spine extension involves moving your chin and neck back and away from your chest.
Exercises that strengthen the levator scapulae include dumbbell shrugs, weighted lateral neck flexion and weighted neck extensions. Dumbbell shrugs strengthen the scapula elevating function of the levator scapulae and involve shrugging your shoulders as high as possible while holding a set of dumbbells. Weighted lateral neck flexion requires tilting your head toward either shoulder against resistance applied by free weight, cable pulley or machine resistance. Weighted neck extensions apply resistance to the back of your head and strengthen the levator scapula as you hyperextend your neck to move your chin away from your chest.
Training with exercises that strengthen the levator scapulae requires adequate frequency, recovery and training load. Perform levator scapulae twice per week, and let the muscle rest for 48 to 72 hours between training sessions. Select resistance that exhausts your muscles within 12 to 15 repetitions. Training within 12 to 15 repetitions strengthens levator scapulae muscle fibers, which helps the levator scapula stabilize your cervical spine and shoulder girdle more effectively throughout the day.
- SportsInjuryClinic.net: Levator Scapulae
- SportsInjuryClinic.net: Cervical Posture Syndrome (Kyphosis)
- ExRx.net: Weighted Lateral Neck Flexion
- ExRx.net: Weighted Neck Extension
- ExRx.net: Dumbbell Shrug
- Chotai PN, Loukas M, Tubbs RS. Unusual origin of the levator scapulae muscle from mastoid process. Surg Radiol Anat. 2015;37(10):1277-81. doi:+10.1007/s00276-015-1508-6
- Yoo WG. Effects of thoracic posture correction exercises on scapular position. J Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(3):411-412. doi:10.1589/jpts.30.411
- Wheeless, C. "Levator Scapula." Wheeless Textbook of Orthopaedics. Nunley, J. and Urbaniak, J. eds. Durham, North Caroline: Duke Orthopaedics; 2016.
- Yoo, W. Effects of thoracic posture correction exercises on scapular position. J Phys Ther Sci. March 2018.
Miguel Cavazos is a photographer and fitness trainer in Los Angeles who began writing in 2006. He has contributed health, fitness and nutrition articles to various online publications, previously editing stand-up comedy and writing script coverage as a celebrity assistant. Cavazos holds a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and political science from Texas Christian University.