Welcome to Purposeful Foam Rolling Blog.
Our purpose here is to help you understand what is causing your muscles to become tight stiff and sore, and the problems that can develop because of this tightness. We want to give you the knowledge and the tools so that you can take control of your self care.
Muscles that can effect your posture, and cause pain in the shoulders, neck and arms. The Scalene Muscles
When I first started in the field of rehabilitative massage our teachers told us that before you can fix the tightness, stiffness, and pain of the shoulder, neck and arms you have to look at the muscles of the front of the neck. Over the last fifteen years that advise has held true. Many of our client who had tight, sore, and painful shoulders, neck and arms, also had very tight and tender Scalene muscles. So let’s take a look a these muscles called the scalenes.
Scalenes: The Scalene muscles are either 6 muscle or 8 depending on the person. 60% of the population has three Scalene muscles the anterior scalene, middle scalene, and the posterior scalene and 40% of the population has 4 scalene muscles. The three mentioned above plus Scalene minimus.
Location: Where are these muscles located.
The Scalene muscles are located on both sides of the front and side of the neck.
Upper attachment sites:
The upper portion of the all 4 scalene muscles attach onto the outside edge of the 2nd to the 7th vertebrae of our neck.
Lower attachment sites:
The lower portion of all 4 of the scalene muscles attach onto either the 1st or the 2nd rib.
Function: What do these muscle do?
When the muscles on both the left and right side of the neck are working together they:
-Elevate the ribs when we inhale.
– Pull the neck forward. When the muscles of one side are working by themselves they:
– Pull the neck to the same side.
– Rotate the neck and head to the opposite side.
Muscle Issues and Pain Patterns:
When these muscles get overly tight, they can cause some issues for us. The most common issue is what we call the head forward posture. This is where the head and neck are forward enough to take the weight of the head off of the spine ( which is designed to support the weight) and place it onto the muscles of the back of the neck and shoulders (which are not design to carry that weight). This is a common occurrence in our modern world because we spend a great deal of time looking downward on our computers, phones or tablets. When the head is forward in this position it causes the scalene muscle to shorten and become tight. This tightness can make it difficult to move our neck and head into good posture and to maintain it.
Also this tightness places a great deal of strain on the delicate vertebrae of the neck. This stress and strain can pull the vertebrae out of their normal position, which over time can cause increased wear and tear, entrap nerves, blood vessels, and cause other muscle to tighten. As these other muscles tighten they begin to force other parts of the body such as the jaw, the head, the shoulders, out of their normal position. All of which can cascading effect throughout the body, causing additional issues and pain.
Tight muscles themselves can develop what are called trigger points, which are hyper-irritated points in a muscle. These hyper-irritated points tend to occur in the same points in most people, and they all tend to have common pain patterns.
The anterior scalene can develop two trigger points. The middle scalene, posterior and Scalene minimus typically have 1 trigger point. Anterior, middle, and posterior Scalene all tend to create the same basic pain pattern. Scalene minimus typically has it own pain pattern.
The first three scalene muscles anterior, middle and posterior when tight tend to create the same pain pattern. This pain pattern can show up in several places such as 1. Pain down the front of the chest down either side of the nipple, along the front of the shoulder, down the front outside edge of the upper arm to the elbow, down the front outside edge of the forearm into the pad of the thumb, and into the front of the thumb. 2. Pain along the entire posterior part of the upper shoulder, down the back of the upper arm, through the elbow, down the outside edge of the forearm, into the back of the thumb, and down the back of the pointer finger. 3. In the back of the shoulders along the inside edge of the shoulder blades.
Finally these muscles can cause neck pain, independent of the pain patterns by simple pulling and keeping the neck in a forward position, placing incredible stress on the neck itself. Over time create pain and stiffness in the neck and head.
Scalene muscles are a commonly over look cause of neck, back, shoulder, and arm pain.
How do I know they’re tight:
If you live in the modern world it’s a good bet your Scalene muscles are tight. Especially if you sit a lot, work on computers, or hang out on your cell phone. Generally, these activities cause poor posture which in turn can cause the scalene muscles to get tight. Pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders and upper back are another good indication of tight scalene muscles.
What can I do if my scalene are tight: The scalene muscles are located in a part of the neck where there are nerves, arteries, and lymph nodes. Unless, you have a good anatomical knowledge of this region of the neck it is best to hire a physical therapist or massage therapist who has training in this area.
There are some simple self care techniques that you can do to help stretch your scalenes. The most important step is to become aware of you posture, because if your posture is bad your scalene will be tight no matter what you do, I tell people to set a timer every fifteen minutes, when it goes off you immediately correct you posture. It’s a great way to catch yourself in poor posture. Just this simple shift in your awareness of your posture will start the process toward helping these muscles be healthy.
Simple stretch for the scalene muscles:
1. Place you hands on your chest so that your fingers over lap on your sternum your pointer finger and thumb rest on your collarbone. While keeping your head in neutral (looking straight ahead) gently pull downward with your hands while you are pulling your chin upward toward the ceiling. Hold to the count of five. Return to neutral and repeat two more times.
Keep your hands in place and
2. Turn your head 45% to the left. Gently pull downward with your hands while you are pulling your chin upward toward the ceiling. Hold to the count of five. Return to neutral and repeat two more times.
Keep your hands in place and
2. Turn your head 45% to the right. Gently pull downward with your hands while you are pulling your chin upward toward the ceiling. Hold to the count of five. Return to neutral and repeat two more times
If you would like to take control of your own self care and learn more about our online Foam Rolling Program
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Make sure to check with your doctor prior too engaging in this or any exercise activity. If you have any concerns or issues with your neck or the spine of your neck, check with your doctor first before performing these stretches. Stretching should be done to a point where you feel a gentle stretch on the muscle. If you feel pain stop and consult with your doctor. These stretches are for educational purposes only and are not intended to treat, cure, or diagnose.