Here are some specific stretches that have been recommended by many sources over the years. They were published in the self-care section on scalenes in the research of Janet Travell, the physician to two presidents. Clinical experience has proven them to be effective for helping the problematic effects of tight scalene muscles.
In this post, they are combined with Ice-and-Stretch and Active Isolated stretching to make them faster and more effective. If you don’t have a place to lie down or ice, you might try these stretches instead.
This post shows you how to use ice to stretch with less pain, in less time with more effective results.
This stretch is designed to target the posterior scalene:
If you have Forward-Head posture, you may choose to skip the stretching portion of this step and continue on the second step. If you do, make sure that you ice the back of your neck before stretching in the third step.
First, stroke the back of your neck with ice where I have indicated in blue. Make sure that you ice around the base of the neck.
Turn your face away from that side and stretch by moving your head toward the opposite shoulder.
This stretch feels less effective to people who have Forward Head Posture as the posterior neck muscles are already overstretched.
Tip: You should play with slight variations in the turning of your head and direction of pull to target the back of your neck and top of your ribs. If you get sensation into your back, chest or arm, that’s good – you’re targeting the trigger point and feeling its referral.
This stretch is designed to target the middle scalene:
Second, stroke the side of the neck with ice where I have indicated in blue. Make sure that you cover the side of the neck from just under your ear to the base of your neck near your shoulder.
Turn your face up toward the ceiling and stretch by moving your head toward the opposite shoulder.
Tip: With the idle hand, reach down toward your foot so that the shoulder is pulled down, away from your head. Slide that hand under your hip to stabilize the shoulder. This position will make a notable difference in your ability to stretch the side of the neck.
This stretch is designed to target the anterior scalene:
If you skipped stretching in the first step, because of Forward-Head posture, make sure that you have iced the back of your neck before this step.
Third, stroke the Front of the neck with ice where I have indicated in blue. Make sure that you ice down the upper back to the 2nd rib and out over the corner of the shoulder blade.
With your nose turned toward the targeted area, gently pull your head away from the shoulder. For people with Forward-Head posture, this stretch is felt on the side of the neck, near the back, instead of the front. Continue with this stretch, when those muscles have lengthened, it will be felt in the front.
Note: Some clicking may occur in the neck during these stretches. This usually comes from air bubbles in the joints that move as when you pop your knuckles. That air bubble will reset, and the joint will pop again after about 20 minutes. If it happens in the same place, with the same stretch, over and over, it is not joint but may be a ligament flipping over a bony bump. If this happens, talk to your bodyworker before continuing with these stretches.
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.
This site is undergoing changes. Starting in early 2020, we began changing the format of the posts to include more extensive self-care, illustrations, therapist notes, anatomy, and protocols. We appreciate your input and feedback. You will see us adding posts and updating older posts as time permits.
Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.
*This site is undergoing major changes. We are reformatting and expanding the posts to make it easier to read, more accessible, and
to include more patterns with better self-care. In the meanwhile, there will be inconsistency in formatting, content, and readability until we get the old posts updated. Please excuse our mess.