Meet the Muscles That Drive You Crazy

Interview With Body Parts: Levator Scapula and Splenius Capitis

Patience R., our intrepid reporter, is diving in to our hard-hitting series focused on getting to know the movers and shakers of the anatomical world, starting with the muscles.


Patience:

“We're live streaming here with some of the biggest stars of our massage offices: Mr. Levator Scapula and Mr. Splenius Capitis. Not everybody knows you by name, but everybody knows where you are! How're you doing this afternoon??




Levator Scapula:

“Thanks for inviting me. This is my best friend, Splenius Capitis. Splenius, say hi to the lady, will ya?”


Splenius: ::Looks the reporter up and down appraisingly, nods.:: “Heyyyyy.”

Levator: ::rolls his eyes and lifts one shoulder:: “I can't take him anywhere. But whatever. So, what do you want to know?”

Anatomical drawing of posterior neck muscles, the splenius capitis outlined in black
Splenius Capitis image from Grey's anatomy, the book not the TV show


Patience:

Let's start with the basics. Where do you come from? Where do you go to? What do you do?


Levator:

I started out where all the greats do, the spine. Specifically, the transverse processes of the cervical vertebrae. You can't see it in the picture above, but yeah, I'm sneaky like that. And I end up at the superior medial point of the scapula.


Patience:

To put that in layman's terms . . .?”

Levator:

I start at the spine in the neck, and I end up at the inner top corner of your shoulder blade. That totally sore spot you can't ever reach? That's ME. As far as what I do, I'm literally the most important part of your body.


Splenius:

Ummm, dude. No way.

Patience:

Mr. Capitis, I'd love your input, but let's get Levator's story out first. Please go on. What makes you say you're the most important muscle?


Levator: Because I let people do the coolest possible thing.

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Patience:

What's that?


Levator Scapula ::shrugs::


Patience:

Will you tell us what you do? What's the cool thing?


Levator: ::shrugs again:: “SEE?”

Patience:

Ohhhh, I get it now. You let us shrug our shoulders. Very cool indeed.




Splenius Capitis: ::covers his mouth and coughs while muttering “lame.”::

Patience:

Mr. Capitis, what were you saying?


Splenius:

Please, call me Splenius. Anyway, what can he do? Shrug. Literally the lamest thing. It shows indecision. Or fear! You know when somebody gets anxious and worked up and their shoulders come up around their ears? That's him, getting intense. Want to know what I do?

Patience: Absolutely!

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Splenius ::nods::


Patience: Yes, so, what is it that you do?

Splenius ::shakes his head::

Patience:

No? So, you don't want to tell me?


Splenius: ::sighs and nods again::


Patience:

Please use words.


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Splenius:

I nod! I shake your head! I keep your head attached! Without me, it would fall off whenever you wanted to look down! I literally reach up into the bottom of your skull and hold on for dear life.


Patience:

My! That is impressive!


Levator: ::shrugs expressively:: Whatever. I am all about nuance. You're just so black and white.


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Patience:

Well, like I said, we're live-streaming this, and we seem to have some comments coming in. This comes from a group called “the Suboccipitals,” and they claim that they are actually the ones to keep the head attached. What do you say to them, Splenius?

Splenius:

Have you even seen them? They're tiny. Little whiners. And it takes four of them to do what I do all by myself. Sure, they try to help me, but I don't need them. And they are always causing headaches. Literally always.

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Levator:

Yeah, I'm sick of them too. They keep stressing everybody else out. And when they get all worked up, then the Traps get mad, then when the Traps are mad, then the Scalenes get involved – a bunch of punks, the Scalenes.


Splenius: ::nods avidly in agreement::


Patience:

So, both of you, to what do you owe your fame? Nearly everybody we see here at the massage offices have something to say about at least one of you.

Splenius and Levator start talking over each other, each trying to be heard.


Patience:

Stop it, please! When you're both talking it's chaos.

::Hands each an icy glass of lemonade, and after a few sips, tempers cool all around::


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Levator:

Like I said before, that one spot that feels like it's almost under your shoulder blade? People just don't get how much work it is to keep your shoulders at the proper stressed-out elevation. That spot where I'm holding on to the shoulder blade just gets really tired out, especially when people put their heads down all the time, looking at screens and phones and stuff, and even though I get stretched out, I still have to do my job, man. So I'm stretched but also tight and tired. Ugh! Phones! Am I right, Splenius?

::Splenius bumps fists with Levator::


Splenius:

For me, it's not that I hold the shoulders up. That's on my man Levator. I keep your head on safely, but it's rough going, especially where I have to grip the skull. That spot gets sore. But do you even know how much heavier your head is when you hang it down in front like everybody does? All day, every day, I'm holding on. I should have known better than attach up to the mastoid process.

Patience:

The mastoid process? Tell me more about that.


Splenius:

So, the skull, you know it has kind of round lumps on each side at the bottom? On the back? Those are the mastoid processes. I reach up there, from the side of the C7 spine and hold on.




Patience:

Oh, wait a moment! We have a question coming in from . . . The Suboccipitals again. Oh, my. They ask you, Splenius, if you know that, in their words “Mastoid means boob.”


Splenius ::sighs and shakes his head:: Those immature jerks love to bring that up. Yes, the prefix “masto-” means “breast-like” in medical terminology. So, the mastoid processes on the back of the skull are rounded. Like a breast. And they wonder why we all try to ignore them.



Patience:

So, Splenius, you help people nod and shake their heads, but get sore and tired, especially where you attach on the lower back of the skull, and Levator, you help us raise our shoulders and shoulder blades, and you get stretched out at the same time as you get tight, especially where you attach at the upper point of the shoulder blades. Is that about right?

::Both nod::


Patience:

Any final advice or suggestions to our audience? Well, maybe not to The Suboccipitals, but everybody else?

Levator:
Folks, I love my job, I really do, but you might try tossing some heat on me at the end of the night, and maybe a little tennis ball rolling action. Being stretched and tight makes for a bit of a hostile work environment.

Splenius:
Well, I'm just trying to keep you safe, so don't blame me when I grab on tightly. You're the one forever dangling your head out front like you don't even care if it falls off and goes rolling down the hall. Please spend a tiny bit of attention on keeping your head balanced over your body. That's all I'm asking.

Well, and also if you could find a way to keep the freaking Suboccipitals quiet, I'd appreciate it.

Patience:

So, there you have it folks! An inside look at the lives of two of the most well-known muscles in your neck and upper back. Thanks, gentlemen, for your time, and thank you to our audience. Keep your eyes open for our next installment of Interview With a Body Part. In the meantime, keep those heads on tightly!


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