Yesterday I decided to do a variation of handstand push ups in my morning workout-- a spin off from my Cross Fit days that I still replicate when I have the time and energy. It sounded like a great idea at the time, but man was I paying for it last night! I was experiencing searing pain each time I turned my head, and even at rest I could feel a swath of muscle in spasm that reached from my neck to the middle aspect of my shoulder blade. Not fun.
This pain is one I'm familiar with, as it rears its head every so often especially with workouts that include exercises over head. The culprit of the issue: levator scapulae. This muscle is attached to our cervical segments at one end (C1 through C4 of the neck, to be precise) and the top corner of our scapula (a.k.a. the shoulder blade) on the other. Its job is as the name suggests; it elevates the scapula. When this muscle goes into spasm, it can cause difficulty rotating to look over your shoulder, pain down the middle portion of your back, and even a low grade headache. It's a nuisance to say the least, but a few sessions of this trick can get it to calm down and get you back to normal in a short amount of time.
The next time you are experiencing pain in this region, try this:
You will need a tennis or lacrosse ball and flat wall space. (I love using a lacrosse ball personally because they're really solid and give good pressure on the muscle for this exercise. However, tennis balls are easy to come by and the price is right. You can't go wrong with either. If you purchase here with these affiliate links, you help support Mountains & Motion. Thank you!)
Place the ball against the wall and lean up against it with your upper body, pressing the ball on the spot just above your shoulder blade that is tender and tight.
Next, tuck your chin and extend your arm out in front of you, raising your arm up and down slightly. Tucking your chin will length the muscle at the top end, and raising your arm up and down moves the muscle at the lower end. Together, it generates a tremendous, dynamic stretch of this muscle while applying pressure on the muscle to get it to lessen the spasm. Perform this for 3-5 minutes, giving yourself breaks when you need it during that time.
After doing this trick, finish up with movement of the thoracic spine to enhance mobility in this region. (For ideas on what to do, check out the 8 exercises in my book, The Simple Cure to Neck and Upper Back Pain!)
It may take a couple of days of performing this exercise to get complete relief, but stick with it and it should do the trick. Also, you may apply a hot pack to the muscle to reduce any soreness and to help your tight muscle relax even more.
Check out this video below to see this exercise in action.
Give this a try, and let me know how this exercise worked for you!