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Levator scapulae muscle

The levator scapulae muscle is a long muscle of the shoulder girdle. It is situated at the back and the side of the neck, and as its name suggests - its main function is to lift the scapula.

The position of the muscle defines its supportive role to the vertebral column. The column would flex or rotate during rotating of one shoulder if it weren't for the levator scapulae to immobilize it. When it's about the simultaneousrotation of the both shoulders, the contraction of the levator scaoulae prevents the rotating muscles to destabilize the spine with their strong contractions.

Key Facts
Origin Transverse process of the atlas and axis, posterior tubercles C3 and C4
Insertion Superior angle and medial border of the scapula
Vascularization Dorsal scapular artery (branch of the subclavian artery)
Innervation Cervical nerves C3 and C4, dorsal scapular nerve
Function Elevation of the scapula, lateral flexion of the spine

Everything you need to know about the levator scapulae muscle, its anatomical characteristics and clinical relations, will be described in this article.


It originates at the transverse processes of the atlas and axis, as well as the posterior tubercles of the 3rd-4th cervical vertebrae.

It inserts at the superior angle and medial border of the scapula.

The upper part of this muscle lies under the splenius capitis and sternocleidomastoideus muscles, and its' lower part under the trapezius. Only the middle part of the levator scapulae remains uncovered in the lateral cervical region and for that reason the muscle can be most easily palpated in this area.

The levator scapulae is supplied by the dorsal scapular nerve (C4-C5), a branch of the brachial plexus.


As the name indicates, the main function of the levator scapulae is the elevation of the scapula. Thereby it simultaneously pulls the entire scapula medially. This movement is helpful when bringing the elevated arm back to the neutral position. In addition, the muscle also moves the inferior angle away from the back causing a small upward tilt of the scapula. If the scapula is fixed, a contraction of the levator scapulae leads to the bending of the cervical vertebral column to the side (lateral flexion) and stabilizes the vertebral column during rotation.

Recommended video: Muscles of the shoulder girdle
Anatomy and function of the muscles of the shoulder girdle.

Clinical Notes

An isolated lesion of the dorsal scapular nerve with a consequent paralysis of the levator scapulae muscle is very rare. The symptoms include a “winging” of the scapula (scapula alata) as well as an atrophy of both the levator scapulae and rhomboid muscles. As the affected patients may have no clear complaints the correct diagnosis is often made too late.

The levator scapulae is one of the muscles of the human body which is prone to stiffening and chronic pain due to false posture in everyday life. Common causes are, among others, carrying heavy shoulder bags, permanent lifting of the shoulders while sitting at a desk and sleeping on one side of the body without proper head support.

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Show references


  • M. Schünke/E. Schulte/U. Schumacher: Prometheus – LernAtlas der Anatomie – Allgemeine Anatomie und Bewegungssystem, 2.Auflage, Thieme Verlag (2007), S.294-295
  • J. E. Muscolino: The muscular system manual – The skeletal muscles of the human body, 2.Auflage, Elsevier Mosby (2005), S.120-122
  • C. Davies: The frozen shoulder workbook - Trigger point therapy for overcoming pain and regaining range of motion, New Harbinger Publications (2006), S.160-163
  • A. Nabhan: Nervus dorsalis scapulae, In: Periphere Neurochirurgie, Klinik für Neurochirurgie, Universitätsklinikum des Saarlandes, Link (German)


  • Achudhan Karunaharamoorthy


  • First Illustration Gallery - Paul Kim, Irina Munstermann
  • Second Illustration Gallery - Yousun Koh, Begona Rodriguez
  • Third Illustration Gallery - Paul Kim
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