Stretching for scalenes

Here are some specific stretches that have been recommended by many sources over the years. Clinical experience has proven them to be effective for helping the problematic effects of tight scalene muscles.

I have added the ice and stretch method to this routine as it has several advantages:

  • It releases the trigger point’s resistance to stretch
  • It reduces the trigger point’s referral of pain
  • It reduces the number of stretches needed to achieve the same result
  • It reduces the time of stretching self-care.
  • It reduces tension and pain in stretching self-care
  • It improves motor planning and muscle strength

If you have not watched it, go to this post to see how Ice and stretch can be implemented before you do this. I have not repeated details of ice-and-stretch in each step of this post.


Get a big ice cube in a washcloth and find a place to lay down. You can do this while seated, but it will be more effective if you are laying down.

 scalene ice - back stretch - scalene, posterior - supine

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.

line - black 400

 scalene ice - middle stretch - scalene, middle - supine

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.

referrals - scalenes - anteriorTip: 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. When this is done, the part of the referral pattern across the shoulder is almost always present during the stretch. It is the part in bright red in this illustration.

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.

 scalene - ice - front 

Third, stroke the front of the neck with ice where I have indicated in blue. Make sure that you ice in that pocket by your collarbone in the front. Turn your face toward the side you’re stretching and move your head toward the opposite shoulder.

Note: With Forward head posture, this stretch is felt on the side of the neck, near the back, instead of the front. This posture is typical for clients who have tight scalenes. Continue with this stretch, when those muscles have lengthened, it will be felt in the front.

This stretching sequence was presented in many texts without using ice. It works well without ice but takes longer and is not as comfortable.

Related posts:



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.

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