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Difficulty tilting head to the side? Stretch this muscle.

When the scalene muscle is tight, it can be hard to tilt your head to the side. Learn how to test for tight muscles and then how to stretch them.

Anatomy of a muscle

The scalene muscles are situated on the side of the neck between the upper part of the trapezius and the sternocleidomastoid. They attach on the cervical vertebrae 3 thru 6 and insert on the inner border of the top two ribs. They stabilize the neck, assist in breathing by elevating the fist two ribs and laterally bend the neck towards the ear.

Causes of tightness

Habitually sitting with your head leaning toward one side – think holding the phone between your ear and shoulder – can cause the scalene muscles to tighten up and shorten.

Symptoms of tightness

  • Difficulty tilting the head to the side

  • Numbness or tingling in the hand or arm

Flexibility test

You should be able to tilt your head between 35 and 45 degrees to the side. If you cannot tilt that far, you need to stretch these muscles. Here's how.

The fix

  1. Sit tall on a chair with your back and abs slightly tightened

  2. Reach behind you with your right hand and grab the edge of the chair

  3. Lean your upper body to the left keeping your head upright until you feel a light pull in your right shoulder or upper arm

  4. Try to lift your right shoulder toward the ceiling and hold for five seconds. Do not let your body move sideways

  5. Relax and lean your upper body to the side a little more

  6. This is the starting point

  7. Carefully lean your head to the left side

  8. Move your left hand over your head and rest it on the right side of your neck below your ear

  9. Gently stretch the muscle for 10 seconds by letting the weight of your hand pull your head sideways

  10. Without moving your head, push the side of your head into your hand and hold for 5 seconds

  11. Relax the contraction and deepen the stretch by pulling your head to the left until you reach a new stretch point

  12. Repeat steps 10 and 11

Retest your range of motion to see improvement in your range of motion.

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