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How to Treat Tight Scalene Muscles at Home

How the Scalene Muscles and cause neck, shoulder and arm pain.

Have you ever felt like you had a crick in the neck or slept on it funny and could not move? It is probably the scalenes. The Anterior, Medius, and Posterior Scalenes are on the side of the neck. They start at the C2 vertebrae and attach on the first and second ribs. They are used for neck stabilization, assist in breathing by elevating the first and second rib and laterally bend the neck towards the ear.

They cover a large area of the neck, therefore are prone to injury and overuse related tension. Increased tension in the scalenes may cause pain not only in the neck but also the chest, shoulder, upper back, and all the way down the arm into the hand. How do muscles in the neck trigger pain in so many areas?

Excessive tension in the scalenes can impinge both nerve and blood flow into the upper extremities resulting in pain. Little muscles that cause big pain. Hence their moniker the “anatomical Bermuda Triangle”. 

Based on their position, they are frequently hurt from car accidents, falls and sports injuries. High stress levels target the scalenes a little more than other muscle groups because of their function. Every time the body feels overwhelmed, frustrated, or upset a natural response is to take a deep breath. In most cases, we accomplish this by and exaggerated sigh. Reduced function from an old injury or poor posture, makes it challenging for these muscles to engage properly.

Scalene Muscles Tightness is a Common Issue with Massage and Chiropractic Clients

Over time this will reduce their ability to stabilize the neck. This increased tension limits the range of motion the scalenes will travel comfortably in. At this point, the scalenes can and usually do, impinge the brachial nerve plexus. This will trigger thoracic outlet syndromes and, in some cases, can even create carpal tunnel-like symptoms. Ryan and Kegan have worked in the Greenwood Village and Centennial area for years, and tight scalenes have been one of the most common reasons clients have come to see them. Prolonged tension in the scalenes makes the neck weak and reduces the function of the surrounding tissues, compromising posture and causing pain.

Massage and chiropractic help treat pain caused by the scalenes by relieving tension in the musculature and increasing joint stability. Years of neck tension or an injury will cause not only the scalenes but the rest of the neck muscles to adhere together and making it difficult to move the neck.

The decreased movement will compress the disc space and can lead to degeneration of the disc as well. Breaking down the tension and increasing the flexibility of the neck, upper back, and shoulder will open this pressure. Once the neck is stabilized, sleeping, posture, working, and overhead movements become more comfortable and natural. 

Tips on how to treat tight scalene muscles at home

  • Stretch them out. Hold your arms behind your back to keep them from rising, then slowly tilt your head trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. Bend your neck only as far as it is comfortable and hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Relax your neck and repeat 2-3 times each side. A easy but effective scalene stretch. Don’t get carried away here, it is easy to overdo it and hurt these muscles.
  • Open the chest. Tight chest muscles make us slouch and will pull on the neck. Hold on to a door frame with one hand and slowly walk through until you feel the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat 2-3 times. 
  • Stay hydrated. Its hard to avoid stress but having the appropriate amount of water helps the soft tissues move and maintain flexibility. High levels of caffeine can negatively affect muscle tissue as well. 
  • Take breaks. Maintain one position in front of a screen or over a book is challenging for weak muscles. We recommend trying to move every hour if even for a little bit. 
  • Check your pillow height. Excessively high or low pillows will keep one side of the scalenes in flexion while the other in extension. Try to maintain a nice neutral position while sleeping.

Spine Body Collective is proudly serving Greenwood Village and Centennial, but our doors are open to Denver and the surrounding metro area. Come see how we can help get your neck moving again. 

2 Join the Conversation

  1. Jeremy says
    Jul 26, 2022 at 11:26 AM

    Awesome advice made a massive difference

  2. Suzanne says
    Aug 09, 2022 at 8:02 AM

    Excellent explanation.

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