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Levator Scapulae

What Is It, Where Is It Located and More

Author:Corinne Tarantino, MPH

Editors:Alyssa Haag,Ian Mannarino, MD, MBA

Illustrator:Jillian Dunbar

Copyeditor:Sadia Zaman, MBBS, BSc


What is the levator scapulae?

The levator scapulae is a large, superficial muscle of the upper back and neck that extends along the neck and elevates the scapula, or the shoulder blade. Levator originates from the Latin word levare which means “to raise” and scapula is Latin for “shoulder.” In order to contract, the levator scapulae receives innervation by the dorsal scapular nerve

Where is the levator scapulae located?

There are two levator scapulae muscles which are located along opposite sides of the neck. They originate from each posterior tubercle of the transverse processes of the C1 to C4 upper cervical vertebrae. The levator scapulae then travels down to the insert near the superior angle of the medial border of the scapula. It lies deep to the sternocleidomastoid at its superior aspect and the trapezius muscles at its inferior aspect. The muscles lie superior to the rhomboids. Additionally, it encompasses part of the floor of the posterior triangle of the neck, a clinically important anatomical region of the neck which contains vasculature and neural structures.

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What is the action of the levator scapulae muscles?

The primary action of the levator scapulae muscles is to elevate the scapula, when working in conjunction with the trapezius and rhomboid muscles. They also help tilt the glenoid cavity inferiorly by rotating the scapula downward, while the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and pectoralis minor and major muscles also contract. Additionally, contraction of the levator scapulae allows for neck tilting side to side. 

How do you stretch the levator scapulae?

The levator scapulae may be stretched by rotating the neck and shoulder in various stretches. Most of the stretches occur when a person is sitting or standing with the back straight and the feet shoulder-width apart. A common stretch of the levator scapulae is accomplished by hanging one arm to the side while the other arm gently pulls the head down and toward the shoulder. The stretch can be made more intense by putting the hanging hand behind the back. Another stretch includes stretching out the arms at a 90-degree angle with the hands in the air or putting one hand up at a 90-degree angle while the other hand hangs down at the side, with the individual looking down at the hanging hand. 

Stretching the levator scapulae may alleviate some neck or shoulder pain as it can enable the muscles to loosen. Pain to the levator scapulae is often caused by poor posture. Consequently, levator scapulae pain may often be avoided by practicing good ergonomics, such as sitting up straight and adjusting computer monitors to allow the head to look straight ahead.

What are the most important facts to know about the levator scapulae?

The levator scapulae is a large superficial muscle that stretches along the outside of the neck from the cervical vertebrae to the scapula. It primarily works to elevate the scapula, but is also involved in rotating the scapula and tilting the head. It may be stretched to alleviate some neck and shoulder pain by tilting the head down and to the side.

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Related links

Superficial structures of the neck: Posterior triangle
Deep structures of the neck: Prevertebral muscles
Muscles of the back

Resources for research and reference

Henry J. P., Munakomi S. (2021). Anatomy, Head and Neck, Levator Scapulae Muscles.  In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553120/

Morton, D. A., Foreman, K. B., & Albertine, K. H. (2018). The big picture: Gross anatomy (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill.