MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2018
Small muscle, big gains
Kamal Singh
Thursday, October 15, 2015

You know that feeling when you wake up in the morning and find it impossible to turn your head to the side beacuse of stiffness? That's a good indication that your levator scapulae might be the culprit. These muscles originate from the first four vertebrae in the neck and insert into the top of the shoulder blade. It's the levator scapulae that are at work when you shrug your shoulders or turn your head to the same side. Although small in size, the levator scapulae can become quite bothersome if not taken care of.

How does the levator scapulae become stiff?

Typing on a keyboard, which is positioned too high is one of the causes for the levator muscles to be engaged. The levator scapulae elevate the shoulder blades. Since we spend several hours in this position, the levators are overworked, often leading to stiff necks and upper backs. Laptops are an ergonomic nightmare; especially if you're using one sitting at a desk. Your shoulders have to be raised to type on its keyboard. If the laptop is on the lap, then the levator stops the head from rolling on to the chest while looking at the screen. Driving for long distances with the hands positioned at the top of the steering also raises the shoulders, which results in a stiff and painful neck. Sitting and working at a desk for long hours while staring at a computer has led to an epidemic of what is known as the Forward Head Posture. Here too, the levator works overtime as the head moves forward. This posture is a leading cause of neck, shoulder and upper back pain where the overused and stiff levator scapulae plays a crucial role.

What can i do about it?
Using a computer at work is a reality we cannot escape, so preventive measures need to be put in at the work space. This can be done by raising the top of the monitor to eye level and providing support for the elbows while typing on keyboards which should be at waist level. If you're using a laptop, then consider getting an external keyboard and placing the laptop on a stand to raise it to eye level. Frequent stretching of the neck and upper back is recommended to avoid stiffness. Do the following stretches at least twice a day to elevate the stiffness, holding the stretch for 45 seconds at least. If stretching is not possible in your work environment, it can be easily done at home or in the gym. Certain aspects of modern living, like working on computers or driving long distances cannot be avoided. Thus, it's imperative to make sure the deleterious effects of such living can be avoided by having an appropriate fitness programme in place. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine.

Overused Levator Scapulae and its implications for the fitness freaks
Almost all upper body exercises, whether they be overhead presses, chin-ups, bench presses or various types of rows, will get affected by a tight levator scapulae. This could lead to shoulder pain or upper back pain while working out.

A certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a black belt in Taekwondo (World Taekwondo Federation, Seoul), Kamal Singh is a specialist in post-rehab fitness, functional training and physical transformation. He has been training athletes, homemakers, actors and executives for over 15 years.

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