Scalene Stretch

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Who:

This stretch could be good for you if you often:

  • Crane your neck forward when working on a computer or something else in front of you
  • Experience stress
  • Breathe more with the upper part of your torso.
  • Hold your head at a particular angle such as when reading, talking on the phone, or working with machinery

Why:

All these activities will lead to chronically shortened scalene muscles. Short muscles can’t work optimally and therefore limit motion of the head and neck (ever have trouble checking your blind spot while driving?), contribute to yanking the muscles in the back of the neck so that they ache, and impact the mechanics of your breathing.

Also, tension in the scalenes can cause them to squish or pull on the brachial plexus which runs between them. The brachial plexus is a group of nerves that travel from spine in the neck and go between the three scalene muscles on their way to the arm. Chronic compression or tension on these nerves by the scalenes is one factor sometimes involved in Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Changing the tension of the scalenes can change their impact on these nerves. dsc_4183

What:

This stretch targets the scalenes and other muscles in the neck. There are an anterior scalene, middle scalene, and posterior scalene muscle on each side of the neck.

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The scalene muscles are named for the shape they create: a triangle with uneven sides.

 

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In this picture, I outlined just a few of the muscles of the neck. The scalenes are located behind the sternocleidomastoid, and the omohyoid lays across them.

How:scalene-stretch

To stretch the scalenes on the right side of the neck, take your left hand and lay it across the front right surface of your neck so that your pinky rests just above the clavicle. Use this hand to pin down the tissue (you don’t need much pressure) as you slowly tilt your head back to pull the muscles into a stretch. If you are facing north, tilt the top of your head in a southwest direction to stretch the right side. Let your other arm hang at your side.

 

Play with the placement and pressure of your hand on your neck and the angle you tilt your head so you can find what creates a pleasant stretch sensation for you.

When:

It’s best to prepare for this stretch by taking a hot shower or doing some light exercise.

This is definitely not a time to push your body past its limit. A gentle resistance is all you need to create change. If you find this stretch uncomfortable, try to lighten the amount of resistance or else just stop.

A final word of caution: since the brachial plexus runs through the scalenes, stretching these muscles can also cause them to yank on the nerves in an unpleasant way. Fortunately, your body should inform you if this is happening right away. If you feel a nervy sensation—possibly a pins and needles, shooting, or tingling feeling—just back off and try stretching at a different angle or placing your hand on a different spot.

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