The Scalene Story:
This story actually start when Christina and I were in massage school. Several of our instructors really drove home the importance of a group of muscle most of us had never heard of.  Scalenes! Really! Sounds like some kind of fish.  They were adamint that these muscle would be an issue for a majority of people creating pain and effecting their posture, and yet most have never heard of them.   They were right, we’re so glad we had this training, because it has made a big difference with many of our clients.

The Scalene are a group of muscles located in the front of the neck. These muscle can impact the posture of the neck and can create a lot of pain in the arms, chest, back and neck. Roughly 60% of people have three scalene, and about 40% having 4. There is an anterior scalene, a middle scalene, a posterior scalene, and the 4th is call scalene minimus.

The Scalene Muscles are Shown in Orange.

Where are they located:
The scalene muscles are located on both sides of the front of the neck. They attach to the outside portions of the second to the seventh neck vertebrae and run downward under the clavicle and attach into the first and second rib. If you place your pointer finger on the top of the clavicle. It should be between your shoulder and the center of your neck. Now run your finger up and down the neck. This is the general location of the scalene muscles

What do these muscles do:
These muscles are kind of unsung heroes in neck, head, and rib movement. When the scalene on both sides of the neck are working together they elevate the ribs. This is very important during normal breathing in (inhalation). When both the left and right anterior scalene are working together they bend the neck forward. If these guys are tight to can bet the neck isn’t happy.  When the scales on only one side of the neck are working together they help bend the neck to the same side and help to rotate the head to the opposite side.

This is “Head Forward” Posture.

What happens when these muscles are tight:
Well, when these muscles are tight, they can pull our head forward and make it hard to bring it back into correct posture. This causes a lot of stress on the muscles and bones in the back of the neck. Tight scalene muscles can place strain or torque on the neck in the same direction that they normally move the neck. So imagine your anterior scalene both being tight and constantly pulling the neck forward. This is call forward head posture and is fairly common in our modern world.  Now imagine if all your scalene are tight and they are constantly pulling the two top ribs upward. This can put the ribs under stress, make it hard to breath, and create tightness in the area underneath the clavicle. Tightness around the clavicle can compass nerves, arteries and the lymph system, which in time can develop into something called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Now if your right scalene are overly tight then they would be pulling your head and neck in that direction or placing a rotational pull on the neck in the opposite directions. Tightness in the Scalene muscles make it hard for you to be in good posture, can cause other neck muscle to tighten, and can causes wear and tear on the spine of the neck.

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.  Another good indication of tight scalene is if the back of your neck, shoulders and upper back are tight stiff and sore.

What can I do if my scalene are tight:
The scalene muscles are located in an area of the neck that has a lot going on. There are nerves, arteries, and lymph nodes. It is best not to go poking around in there unless you have a good understanding of neck anatomy. Finding a massage therapist who is trained in working on the scalene muscles. There are some important self care that you can do. The most important step is to become aware of you posture. 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.

Christina and I  teach foam rolling and self care skills. So you can be active, pain free, and healthy.  We are not medical doctors. We are not diagnosing, treating or prescribing, This is for educational purposes only. We are giving you 15 Years of experience as Neuromuscular Massage Therapist. We have worked with  professional, and semi-professional collegiate athletes and highly athletic adults.

Related Blog:
The strange pain patterns created by the scalenes.

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