Shoulder Muscle Causes Pain In Upper Back And Neck

Muscles are the most common cause of pain in the upper back and neck.

The levator scapulae muscle is also called the ‘shoulder hiker.’ It lifts or hikes your shoulder blade.

Trigger Points Cause Upper Back and Neck Pain

Shoulder Hiker Muscle

Trigger points are hyperirritable areas of muscle that cause pain elsewhere, sometimes at a great distance from the trigger point.  Trigger points can be in the shoulder hiker muscle and when they are they cause pain around the upper back and shoulder blade.

In this picture, you can see the shoulder hiker muscle.  You are looking at the back side of a body.  The muscle attaches to the bones of your neck.  It also attaches to your shoulder blade on the innermost top part.

If trigger points develop in this muscle it will cause pain where the muscle is.

It will also cause pain along the spine side of your shoulder blade down to the bottom of the shoulder blade.

And it can cause pain at the back of your shoulder on the top of your arm.

If it always feels like your shoulders are creeping up to your ears, this guy is the culprit.  It has become shortened because you held your shoulders hiked and the muscle got used to being in that position.  It may also have developed trigger points that need to be released.  If you do not release the trigger points you will continue to have pain in your upper back and neck.

What can you do to help this muscle relax?

1.  You can use a pressure tool or finger to press into the levator scapulae muscle.  Press at the crook of your neck where your neck meets your shoulder.  Look for very tender areas.  That is where you want to apply pressure.  Also press where the muscle meets the top of the shoulder blade.  Those are the two areas where trigger points are.

2.  You can go to a professional massage therapist who can warm and relax the muscle (and others around it) with manual pressure and massage.  He or she will work the length of the muscle to help it stretch and settle it down.  A trigger point therapist can get rid of the triggers that are causing the pain in your neck and upper back.

3.  You can lift your shoulders to your ears.  Hike them way up and hold for twenty seconds or so.  This will tire the shoulder hiker muscle so it will start to relax.  You can do this several times.  (But use sense.  Too many times can make the muscles ache from overuse just as any new exercise program can.)

What Activities Cause Pain In Upper Back And Neck?

The stress of poor, collapsed posture will cause the shoulder hiker muscle to complain.  So can overexercise (hiking your shoulders when lifting) or rotating your neck too much from side to side (watching a tennis match.)

A car accident can activate trigger points in the levator scapulae and so can walking with a cane that is too tall.   Carrying a purse or bag with your shoulder hiked up also causes pain in your upper back and neck.

Scoliosis can also cause pain in the crook of the neck but that’s a different issue.  The whole body needs to be addressed in that case.

  • So, relax the levator scapulae muscle with massage or pressure.
  • Change or stop doing whatever is causing your shoulder hiker muscle(s) to be unhappy.

That, in a nutshell, is how you can get rid of pain in your upper back and neck naturally when  it is caused by the shoulder hiker muscle.




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17 Comments on Shoulder Hiker Muscle Causes Pain In Upper Back And Neck

  1. Susan says:

    I had this exact issue during the 4th of July holiday week. I not only had pain, but spasms around my back of neck and from one shoulder blade to another. I could easily tell it was coming from behind my should blade up to my neck on both sides.

    If I am understanding what you are writing, by working on better posture and lifting my shoulders to my ears for 20 secs and then relax each day. Or, applying direct pressure for a minute will help. But how many times per day should I do this? Would yoga help alleviate or help this as well?

    The pain was horrible and put me out of commission for four days. No one even my chiropractor really didn’t know what to tell me.

    Thank you for any advice on exercise or anything to help not ever get this again!

  2. Hi Susan,

    What you say is true; better posture will help, lifting your shoulders and dropping them after 20 seconds will help, applying direct pressure to areas that you can tell NEED pressure will help. How often?

    Practice better posture all the time. Whenever you notice that you are slumping, lift your breastbone and move your shoulder blades toward your spine. Lift your shoulders 3 or 4 times. Repeat 2 or 3 times each day.

    Yoga helps because it causes us to have long, strong muscles and that’s ideal. It also helps with posture and flexibility.

    Based on your description, I suspect you had a muscle spasm which may have been caused by a sudden movement (a sneeze or sleeping in a strange position?) Ice would be the best treatment because it’s the best therapy for nerve issues in case a nerve(s) was involved and it also helps relieve pain and muscle spasm.

    The more we are in neutral posture with head held over our body instead of in front of our body, the less chance we have for this type of injury.

    I hope this helps and thank you for writing.

    You can find articles I have written about strengthening your back very easily at When you have a strong back side from your knees to the base of your skull you will be less likely to have this neck or back injury.

    The Pain Relief Coach

  3. So this is the culprit of my shoulder pain….what you describe is exactly my pain….I have been having this for over a year now….and I have notice that my shoulder will automatically raise to my ear…I did press on my neck like your said and yes it was terribly sore…..I’m so glad I saw this….
    Also my spine hurts across from my shoulder and I use a tennis ball to rub it out…I also used it on my shoulder….I don’t know if I should but it does seems to help relive some of the pain….thank you so much for sharing this…

  4. Hi Gloria, You’re very welcome! Also, use the tennis ball on the outer edge of your shoulder blade, under your armpit.

    Those sore muscles on your neck/top of shoulders will benefit from cold therapy, heat therapy, pressure or massage.

    I’m sure you will be getting rid of your shoulder pain now that you know more about it. 🙂

    Take care,


    Kathryn Merrow
    The Pain Relief Coach

  5. Claudia Minne says:

    So glad I read this! My problem since a long time. Thanks a million. I’ll try to help myself for freeeee!

  6. Rowan Wilkinson says:

    Right shoulder pain is often caused by the gall stones which you can clear with a liver cleans. Be sure to kill all parasites first and then do Dr Hulda Clarks Liver cleans. To prove if this is right try a teaspoon of epsom salts in warm water. If it temporarily clears the shoulder pain it is definitely the cause as mentioned above. A few cleanses every few weeks with Dr Clarks system would clear the issue.

  7. Emily Heise says:

    Great info and very helpful as well. Having poor posture and a conventional seats maybe one of the culprits. Should take that into consideration as well. Should buy chiropractic seats or get seats for relief and convenience.

  8. This is true. Pain on the outside of the body can be caused by the organs inside. I cannot recommend liver cleanses as I’m not that familiar with them but pain on the outside certainly could be caused by a liver or gallbladder issue.

    Thank you for writing.

    The Pain Relief Coach

  9. Hey Emily,

    You are so right! Poor posture and poor seat support can cause (and DO cause) pain in the neck and upper back as well as in the rest of the body.

    Thank you for writing,

    The Pain Relief Coach

  10. j says:

    shoulder hiker muscle…? you mean the levator scapulae

  11. Erna wisnu wardhani says:

    I have this shoulder-to-upper back pain since 2007 approximately. And since then I have always been in the utmost unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling. Mostly at night, i can’t sleep for several times. But it’s reduced a lot now. I met doctor regularly, went to physiotherapist, have a back-to-feet massage weekly and exercises a lot. This pain really a money and time spender! Thank God, as long as i keep maintain my stress low, my exercise well, and regularly do the massage. I will be just fine.
    Wish you all be well soon..

  12. Anowar says:

    Great article to learn more about neck pain problem!

  13. Annette says:

    Also, sleeping on the wrong pillows affect those muscles. Or not enough pillows.

  14. You are correct, Annette. Either over-stretching or squashing the shoulder muscles can cause pain. Thanks for your comment.

  15. Barb says:

    Thank you so much!! Very helpful!!😊

  16. You’re very welcome, Barb! And thank you!

    The Pain Relief Coach