Levator Scapulae and Breathing Difficulties

Updated April 17, 2017

The levator scapulae is a muscle that helps your shoulder and neck to move properly. When you have a stiff neck and cannot turn your head to one side comfortably, this muscle is usually involved. Shallow breathing involves the neck and shoulders more than proper diaphragmatic breathing. Try taking a few quick breaths and watch how your shoulders and neck do more work. Tight or injured levator scapula muscles and poor posture can affect your breathing.

Strains and Injuries

A strained levator scapulae muscle or one that is too long or too short will cause pain in the neck and shoulders. Injuries like whiplash or levator scapulae syndrome affect the levator scapulae muscles. Carrying a heavy backpack or purse on one shoulder can cause tension in the muscle. With tight and injured levator scapulae muscles, you reinforce or use improper breathing techniques. You end up using your chest instead of your abdominal area, according Dr. Tadao Ogura, author of "The Art of Breathing." If you deal with the source of the problem, you can prevent poor breathing and avoid symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue.

Poor Posture

According to Thomas Myers, a certified advanced Rolfer and founder of Kinesis Incorporated, forward head posture in which you look like a turtle causes you to rely more on the levator scapulae muscles. Pain can trigger shallow breathing, which further aggravates the problem of relying more on neck and shoulder muscles. Walking around with your shoulders rolled forward can cause strained levator scapulae muscles, according to the book "Head Pain." When you have poor posture, it is more difficult to breathe correctly and efficiently.

Apical Breathing

In apical breathing, the diaphragm barely moves, states Dr. Tadao Ogura. Instead, the shoulder and neck muscles and upper part of the lungs are involved in every breath. Over time, this can cause stressful feelings and problems with muscles like the levator scapulae. It can also cause hyperventilation, dizziness, vertigo, numbness in arms and legs and increased heart rate. Those with apical breathing may have trouble exercising or just feel more anxious on a regular basis. Instead of merely stretching the levator scapulae muscles, you need to change breathing habits along with decreasing tension in your muscles.

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About the Author

Based in Colorado Springs, Vanessa Newman writes for "Women's Edition" magazine and has been published in "Rocky Mountain Sports," "IDEA" magazine and "The Teaching Professor." She has been writing professionally for over 10 years and holds a master's degree in sports medicine. She has written online courses for companies such as Anheuser-Busch and Chevron, but prefers creative writing.