Neck is one of our common tight areas of the body, especially for those who spend a lot of time at desk or computer. While you are reading this article, are you sure that you are in the proper and healthy posture? Are you having your head pulled forward and down and the back of your neck jammed? One of the reasons why you have this “forward head posture” is tightness in the muscles named scalenes. In order to unglue tight scalenes, first you need to move. So get up! Lift your arms, roll your shoulders, move your head!
Scalenes are a group of three muscles on each side of the neck, namely scalenus anterior, scalenus medius and scalenus posterior. They connect the sides of the neck, almost every cervical vertebrae, to the first and second ribs on each side. Considering their origins and insertions, the action of each side of scalenes is to tilt the neck to the same side. And when both sides of scalenes contract together, it causes a bending of the neck to the front. Scalenes are also the auxiliary muscles of inspiration, along with the other bigger muscles of the neck – sternocleidomastoids, as they lift the first and second ribs up when we inhale. However, it is still unclear if scalenes also do the rotation of the neck or not.
In addition, nerves and blood vessels of the arms slip through this complicated area where scalenes, clavicles and ribs exist. Chances are scalenes contract and put some pressure on the nerves between them. This compression can be worse if scalenes are too tight, injured or if they are into spasm, resulting in serious symptoms like carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, for example.
Yoga and Scalenes Stretching
Neck stretching is very popular in many yoga classes; tucking chin down then lifting it up, leaning head to the right then the left, turning head to the right then the left, for example. Doing something is better than doing nothing. However, we cannot think of the neck as a separate part from shoulders and upper back as it requires extensive muscular support from the muscles of these other areas to support the head and make movement. So the most effective way to release tension in the neck should include the exercise of the head, upper back and arms (to move the shoulder girdle).
Many yoga poses have some quality of scalenes stretching, though they were not originally invented to do this. Many back bend, forward bend and side bend can help contract and stretch the muscles of the back and neck. Though it is unclear about the scalenes’ function of neck rotation, many yoga poses rotate the neck. Some poses are the combination of rotation and lateral flexion; Triangle Pose, Side Angle Pose, for example.
Simple movement like Cat & Cow Stretch is also good for the scalenes as it includes the movement of the head and neck, chest, upper back and shoulder blades. Movement increases circulation to the muscles that move, nourishes certain body part with oxygenated blood and releases tension in muscles effectively. Movements can be practiced by themselves or integrated into some asanas; Flat Back (Ardha Uttanasana) and Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) alternately, for example.
So the most effective way to stretch scalenes or other neck muscles has already included in many asanas. What we need to do is just doing it with the more emphasis on good alignment and more awareness in the neck region.
Having some movement is always helpful if you get tight in any part of your body as our body was designed to move, not to be stationary at the desk or computer. The best way to release the tension in scalenes is to observe your behavior in any activity in daily life and avoid settling into unhealthy posture that damages scalenes for too long.
Model: Pin in Trikonasana