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4 Levator Scapulae Stretches (Ways to Relieve a Sore Neck)

Christiana Mikesch
Published by Christiana Mikesch | Senior Coach
Last updated: June 29, 2023

If you’ve ever had to deal with stiff and sore neck muscles after a workout, then you know how inconvenient it can become. Not only can the neck pain be annoying during the day, but it can disrupt your sleep as well.

My physio suggested targeted levator scapulae stretch to solve these issues. The problem is that you can easily do this stretch wrong and make it less effective.

So, I got my physio to help out with this post and to provide some suggestions for ideal timing and what benefits to expect.

Quick Summary

  • Head tilts are the easiest way to do a levator scapulae stretch, but there are some additional variations that can help make a bigger difference.
  • The levator scapulae muscles that support the neck and head can quickly become sore and stiff after a tough upper body workout.
  • Eliminating such pain in the neck can also have a significantly positive impact on your overall posture.

How To Do A Levator Scapulae Stretch

A woman performing levator scapulae stretch

Here are a few simple ways to do a levator scapulae stretch after a workout session and even throughout the day if you tend to sit at a desk for long periods of time.

1. Side Tilts

This is the simplest stretch, and what you do is pull your shoulder blades together and bring your shoulder joints back.

Then tuck your chin closer to your neck and tilt your head as far left as possible.

You can also gently pull your head further down with your right hand to the left side.

2. Head Rotation

The head rotation is another simple way to relieve soreness in the levator scapulae muscles.

Tuck your chin close to your neck and then turn your head as far left as possible.

Basically, bring your chin as close to your left shoulder as possible.

You can also gently pull your chin a bit further to intensify the stretch.

3. Banded Neck Stretch

A person using a band to stretch his neck

If you have more severe neck pain, then using bands can help a lot. Stand on a resistance band and hold the handle with your left arm.

Push your left shoulder blade downward and turn your head to the right shoulder.

Now, place your right hand on the back of the head and gently pull it to the same side. You’ve now got a stretching pull in both directions.

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4. Towel Neck Stretch

If you don’t have a resistance band, then you can do a slight variation using a towel.

The starting position is holding one end of a towel behind your back and the other end in front of you in your right arm.

The center of the towel should be on your shoulder, and you then turn your head to the right.

You should feel that this pulls your shoulder blade and upper back down. You can increase the stretch if you gently pull down the towel at both ends.

What Are The Benefits?

A man doing levator scapulae stretch

Here are the main benefits of doing the levator scapulae stretch.

1. Neck Pain Relief

The cervical spine can quickly end up with painful symptoms of muscle stiffness.

The pain can often seem like it’s coming from the shoulders and travels to the top four cervical vertebrae.

People who don’t address that stiffening of the muscles will likely run into issues like chronic pain, reduced neck mobility, and even trouble sleeping [1].

2. Improved Posture

Forward head posture is a significant problem for people who sit at a desk all day.

Weakening back and neck muscles, which tilts the head forward and makes the problem worse [2].

By stretching and strengthening the neck muscles, you can solve this head-forward problem.

“Any activity that causes a person to lean their head forward for a prolonged period of time can lead to chronic FHP.”

- Angela M. Bell, MD.

Also Read: Best Erector Spinae Exercises

3. Release Muscle Tension

When you gently pull and stretch the levator scapulae muscle, it can release a lot of tension.

It’s like when you have a leg cramp, and you stretch the muscle to release it.

For that reason, I like doing this stretch after a workout and even before I go to bed to fully relax my upper body.


How Do You Release A Tight Levator Scapulae?

You can release a tight levator scapulae muscle by doing simple stretching exercises. Tilting the head in the opposite direction and pushing your shoulder down will lengthen the muscle and provide relieving stretch.

What Causes Levator Scapulae Tightness?

Any injury or repetitive activity can cause levator scapulae tightness. It’s commonly associated with spending a lot of time at a computer, but it can also happen through exercise.

Start Adding This Stretch To Your Cooldown

On the days when you’re working your upper body hard, it’s important to add a few simple stretches to your cooldown phase. The levator scapulae stretch will take less than a minute but might have a big impact on your recovery time.

The other thing I would suggest you do is invest in a top-quality post-workout protein supplement.

These will help to repair your muscles faster and prepare you for your next workout with better performance levels.


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