Stretching Series: Scalenes

Scalene Muscles

The Scalenes are an incredibly important for a multitude of reasons. They are involved in many different issues involving the cervical spine including upper cross syndrome, improper breathing, cervical disc injuries, and nerve entrapments which affect the arms and hands. Obviously, they are important to know how to stretch correctly.

It is important to know two key facts for these muscles. The first is knowing that they insert into the ribs so we can use the movement of the ribs to help increase the stretch. The second is that there are three of these muscles which all track in different angles. So, in order to stretch all of them, we will need to use slight variations throughout our stretch focus on these angles.

The Stretch

Pre-note: we will use the right side as the side being stretched for clarity of directions.

  1. In an upright position, begin by reaching your left hand over your head and placing it on the right side of your head.
  2. Gently pull your head and neck laterally toward the left side.
  3. To affect the anterior scalene and middle scalene, while laterally flexed to the left,  extend the cervical spine until tension develops.
  4. To affect the posterior scalene, start with lateral flexion to the left then slightly flex the cervical spine forward.
  5. To finish any of these stretches with maximum lengthening, exhale actively and fully to depress the ribs and move the insertion of the muscles inferiorly.


Note: Focusing on the movement of the cervical spine only and not the head is important. This is especially true for the middle and anterior scalene as the platysma can come to tension first if the head is tilted back too much. Some head extension will occur but the focus should be on cervical extension to be done correctly.

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