Levator Scapulae Release And Exercises (Instant Neck Pain Relief)


Struggling with constant neck and shoulder pain? This is usually caused by tight levator scapulae and/or tight upper trapezius muscles.

Let’s fix that today with self-myofascial release and exercises you can do at home.

Here’s what this post will help you with today:

  • How your neck and back muscles are connected
  • Causes of neck pain
  • Should you stretch your neck muscles?
  • Exercises to do to fix neck pain (dumbells and resistance band only)
  • Exercises (and other things) to avoid to keep this from happening

Recommended program: Trapezius Control – Get long-term relief from trapezius, neck, and upper back pain.


The human body is an interconnected unit. We cannot look at the body in fragmented parts. What happens at the top will affect the bottom.

To fix the causes of neck pain, we need to take an integrated approach. Especially if you don’t want it coming back.

And, I think you’ll agree that it’s frustrating when the pain just keeps coming back after just a few minutes of relief.

If you’ve been stretching your neck every time you get pain and it’s making the pain worse, I’ll explain why that happens too.

For now, please don’t rush into stretching your neck. There are more effective and safer ways to get relief.

The Neck And Upper Back Muscles:

Muscles Connected To The Cervical Spine:

  • Levator scapulae
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Sternocleidomastoid
  • Scalene muscles
  • Deep cervical flexors

Causes Of Neck Pain

Disclaimer: Neck pain can have many different causes. Always check with your doctor first to rule out any serious causes or underlying disc issues.

The most common causes of neck pain can be related to posture, muscle stiffness or strain, weakness, or disc-related.

  • Rounded shoulders and forward head posture.
  • Levator Scapulae Stiffness and trigger points
  • Deep flexors weakness
  • Stress
  • Strains
  • Disc issues

It’s important to address any imbalances or malalignments at the neck. Because that can have an effect down the kinetic chain (lower back, knees, ankles)

Related post: One shoulder higher than the other? Here’s how to fix uneven shoulders.

How can neck pain cause lower back pain?

If the cause of neck pain is related to postural malalignments such as rounded shoulders and forward head posture, that leads to the pelvo-ocular reflex…

… The pelvo-ocular reflex is a great example of how the upper and lower body extremities are connected and affect each other.

The pelvic girdle and lower body will respond to the head position through the pelvo-ocular reflex.

When the head starts to transition forward (forward head posture), the pelvis will shift forward as well and rotate anteriorly.

anterior pelvic tilt weak gluteus maximus

This happens to adjust the body’s center of gravity. Dysfunction in the head creates dysfunction in the lower back.

So if you’ve been doing everything to fix your anterior pelvic tilt, with stretching and massage therapies, and it keeps rotating forward, why not check your neck and shoulders.

Take a photo of your body standing with your side facing the phone.

Don’t try to fix anything because you want to check your ‘default’ posture, and observe if your head is traveling forward and your shoulders are rounding.

Should You Stretch Your Neck Muscles?

If the pain you’re experiencing is around the side of the neck and radiates down the upper back.

The muscles involved would be the levator scapulae, rhomboids, and trapezius. 

I’ve written a step-by-step post to show you how to release the trapezius muscle. Make sure to check that out after this post.

Before you stretch your neck by pulling your head down or to the side like this…

neck pain relief-stretch

I highly recommend you do the following first:

First of all, try to relax as much as possible. Take deep belly breaths and relax your shoulders down.

Then, grab a massage ball (or you can do this with just 2-3 fingers or a tennis ball), and go against the wall and place the ball on your chest muscles first.

You can also stretch your chest and front shoulders afterward. I know you may be thinking…well, I don’t have chest pain. But…

…Releasing any chest tightness that may be causing scapulae protraction (1) is very important.

A lot of times, this alone fixes the pain (if the pain is caused by muscular tightness).

Chest release for neck and upper back pain

Release any tightness around that area (front shoulders and chest).

Chest tightness can trigger neck and upper back pain as the back muscles are trying to pull the head back into a neutral position.

So instead of elongating and stretching the back or neck muscles, why not address the root cause of the problem.

If the neck and upper back muscles are already weak, elongating them will cause more weakness causing the muscles to spasm even more.

I like to stick to self-myofascial release and release the trigger points instead of stretching when pain is present.

If you have rounded shoulders, you’ll need to work on your shoulders almost every day to unlock them. Just be patient and consistent.

I’ve had a lot of success releasing the chest muscles with a massage ball to get instant relief from neck and upper back pain. 

Then, place the ball on the levator scapulae area and start to roll it and down the side of your neck (avoid the spine).

Press more on the ball whenever you get on a tender area that feels like a trigger point. You can do this with your fingers, or lie down and have someone put gentle pressure on it.

Roll the ball down your back to where the lower trapezius muscle is. And slowly roll the ball up and down.

Make sure you’re staying on the muscles. Don’t roll on your spine.

Illustration of the muscules of the back.

Sometimes one side can feel tighter than the other. Don’t forget to relax to allow the ball to get deep into the muscle tissue.

Exercises For Neck Pain Relief

One of the best ways to avoid dysfunctions is to work on fixing the original imbalance instead of just addressing the symptoms.

If you exercise your upper body a couple of times a week, always start with a proper rotator cuff and neck muscle stabilization routine, I shared these 5 exercises for the neck and shoulders here.

These are exercises you can do with just a pair of light dumbbells or your bodyweight (using your arms only).

7 Resistance Band Exercises For Neck Pain

Below are additional exercises to restore your posture (which will help you get relief from neck pain).

Yes, these are shoulder exercises. But, they’re focused on the back of your shoulders and these muscles are connected to the neck muscles.

By strengthening the back shoulder muscles and restoring your posture, you’ll be working on getting long-term relief from neck pain

You can also just do them at home as part of your rehab routine. Another great exercise is the superman exercise.

Lie on your mat facing down. Reach with your arms out and lift your arms up. Make sure you’re not shrugging your shoulders. 

prone floor exercise for neck pain

How To Avoid Getting Neck Pain

Neck pain can happen at any time. Sometimes just sleeping in the wrong position can cause it. I’ve had that happen to me so many times.

To avoid chronic neck pain that is caused by all the dysfunctions I explained above, I recommend you also avoid the following things, in addition to doing your self-myofascial release and exercises:

  • Avoid crunches. Spinal flexion can exacerbate rounded shoulders. This is the opposite of the exercise I showed you above (literally the complete opposite to crunches). There are so many ways to train your abdominals and deep core muscles.
  • Make sure to sit with proper form to avoid weakening the back stabilizers and keep your posture aligned.
  • Instead of sitting slouched to text or use your phone, bend your arms at a 90-degree angle. Look straight up. Elevate your arms and rest your elbows to the side of your belly to keep your eyes elevated and avoid neck flexion.

Stress And Neck Pain

One of the causes of neck pain is actually stress. If you’re living a stressful lifestyle, that will have an effect on your posture and breathing.

Notice when you’re stressed out how your shoulders get tense and you start to breathe mainly from your chest.
Shallow breathing limits the amount of oxygen in and shuts off the intrinsic deep core muscles too.

We can talk about exercise all day long to deal with neck pain, but if you spend the rest of the day in a state of stress, that will affect your nervous system and muscles and lead to postural changes and eventually muscle pain.

Below are a few helpful posts I wrote about how to release stress from the body through deep breathing.

I hope you found this post helpful. As always, if you have a question about anything, let me know in the comment section below.

Recommended program: Trapezius Control – Get long-term relief from trapezius, neck, and upper back pain.


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