Acupuncture & the Levator Scapula muscle

The levator scapula’s principle action, as its name suggests, is to elevate the shoulder blade up and forward. A common, often sub-conscious physical response to emotional stress is to engage this muscle in a self-protective reflex, elevating the shoulder blade to protect the cervical spine.


However, when stress is chronic, the levator never gets to relax, and can develop tight, painful trigger points, as well tendonitis at its attachment to the scapula at the site of acupuncture point Jianweishu “Outer Shoulder Cave” (SI 14). Chronic tension in the levator simultaneously pulls down and sideways on the cervical spine, causing neck pain, and, by keeping the scapula hiked up, compresses the rotator cuff tendons under the acromial arch of the shoulder blade, which can lead to rotator cuff syndrome.


Needling into the levator’s tendon attachment to the upper inside corner of the scapula at SI 14 often produces a powerful, immediate “twitch” reponse, after which the muscle relaxes and re-sets to its normal resting length. SI 14 can then be connected to low-intensity pulsed electro-stimulation which fatigues and further relaxes the levator. Acupressure, gua sha, and suction cupping can also be used at SI 14 to break up scar tissue and adhesions which commonly form at this site, and to relax the levator scapula and restore local normal blood flow.


The levator can also be relaxed through shoulder girdle strengthening and mobilization exercises, and through simple stress management techniques or addressing underlying causes of chronic stress like depression and anxiety. Breath awareness and guided breath-work in particular are useful for both reducing stress and moving and relaxing the shoudler girdle, as each full breath moves the shoulder blades and rib-cage. So take a deep breath, blow it all out, and feel SI 14 and the levator scapulae relax!