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  • Writer's pictureLauren Burnham

Numbness and Tingling

Numbness and Tingling and Weakness 

Oh My!

During any given day, a person will eventually assume a forward head posture; when they drive their car, sit at their desk, use their smart phone, type on their computer, or find themselves listening intently to someone. When a person has forward head posture, their scalene muscles are going to tighten up.  The scalenes are the lateral neck muscles that help you inhale, rotate and flex your head forward.

This posture can potentially compress the brachial plexus, which is the network of nerves that originate in the neck and feed into the armpit region and down into the arms. A brachial plexus impingement can lead to a number of problems from numbness and tingling in the hands, to thoracic outlet syndrome or carpal tunnel-like symptoms.

There are three scalene muscles and they are located between the anterior portion of the trapezius muscle and the sternocleidomastoid (the long thick muscle that attaches from behind your ear down to your sternum and clavicle).  When scalene muscles get tight, they can entrap the brachial plexus and subclavian artery that pass through or around them, resulting in numbness and tingling down that involved extremity. If the anterior and medial scalene become chronically shortened, this can potentially limit the space of the thoracic outlet, resulting in a neurovascular and subclavian artery entrapment.

If the scalenes tighten on one side (unilaterally), you can find yourself with an elevated shoulder. This unilateral shortening can be caused from a leg length discrepancy, whiplash injury, bad sleeping habits, excessive coughing from a cold, swimming, or even from awkwardly lugging large objects around (like that 20 pound purse or messenger bag).

Two of the most important components to treating tight scalene are to become aware of where you hold your head and how you breathe.  Abnormal breathing patterns are huge contributor to scalene trigger points. You should be able to breathe diaphragmatically (using the belly) when sitting, standing and laying down.

Try the following Postural Reset and Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise:

  • Position your head with your ears in line with your shoulders and hips.

  • Place your right hand on your chest and left hand on your abdomen.

  • With your eyes closed, inhale through the nose to a four second count expanding the belly.

  • Then exhale through the mouth to a four second count allowing the abdomen to retract.

This should be repeated for 30 to 60 seconds every hour throughout the day. Sixty seconds is adequate time to practice this without overly fatiguing the muscles. Diaphragmatic breathing certainly helps reduce the overworking of the scalene muscles and it is a very useful strategy in dealing with scalene trigger points. You can do this exercise anywhere like standing in line, sitting at your desk and as a meditation.

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