Activities to avoid and change,
Strategies for quick relief,
Stretching for longer-lasting relief,
Corrective Exercises, Yoga, and more…
Activities To Avoid or Change:
Scalenes are used in breathing. They should be an accessory breathig muscle but certain postures make them the primary breathing muscle. When you are leaned forward so that it is difficult to breathe with your diaphragm, they are used to increase lung capacity by pulling up on the top ribs. There’s a whole post about changing your seated posture so that this doesn’t occur.
Also, this is aggravated by driving with your hands at 10 and 2. By the way, that creates risks of being injured , if the airbag goes off. Drive with your hands at 4 and 8. It’s more relaxing, safer and stops your scalene muscles from cutting off the circulation to your arms.
Sleeping on your back tightens these muscles and “puts your arms to sleep.” Sleep on your side with a pillow that runs along your torso to avoid turning all the way over on your stomach.
This can come on gradually from habitual activities. Habitually sitting while leaned forward, especially with your hips pulled forward, can lead to changes in breathing patterns that use the front of the neck to lift the rib cage and develop strong, short scalenes. Competitive swimming and some musical instruments, like flute or violin, can also change the scalenes to be more dominant in breathing patterns.
This is usually perpetuated by pulling one’s head forward to read, work on a laptop, drive while the seat is leaned back, etc. Adjust your ergonomics. Your parents were right. You need to sit up straight.
For temporary relief:
Wrap your neck in a warm towel, sit up straight and roll you head back and from side to side. It will loosen this area and usually restores circulation to the arms.
If you’re having problems with your arms going to sleep at night and need to get out of bed. Focus on gently rolling your shoulders around and moving your head from side to side to get feeling back in your arms before attempting to use them to get out of bed, etc. It can restore feeling much more quickly than trying to use your arms and avoid the dangerous activity of getting out of bed when your arms aren’t working properly.
These stretches are specific to helping the anterior and middle scalenes that trap the neurovascular bundle that feeds the arm. If you had one exercise that you would take a few minutes to do when this is bothering you, this is it.
Feeling some sensation into your torso and arm? Getting some sensation into the scalene referral areas is a good sign. It doesn’t always happen but it indicates that the trigger points are activated by the stretch. It doesn’t happen as much when you use the ice, as ice inhibits that irritation generated by trigger points. Most commonly, people feel it in the hand and upper back.
Stretches and exercises for longer-lasting relief:
The exercise in this post is really great for releasing tension in the head, neck and upper back. It is particularly good at strengthening the muscle that lower shoulders and releasing the muscles that keep them high and tight.
These stretches for scalenes have been an effective approach for more than 30 years. It will be worth it to take the time to learn to do them properly and work with them regularly.
This post on breathing exercises is a proven therapy approach for retraining the breathing pattern, loosening fixated rib heads and releasing the underlying factors that perpetuate trigger points in muscles around the rib cage.
Yoga poses that extend the neck, like this Cat-Cow pose, are great for opening the base of the neck in the front so that the scalene done entrap the neurovascular bundle that feeds the arm.
The big changes that will come from dropping your collar bone as you exhale in poses. This mindful habit will relax the scalenes and the rest of your neck and head. If you want to play with that, try the breathing exercises listed above. You’ll see amazing results from just focusing on that a few times a day at red-lights or at your desk.
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