SCALENE SYNDROME

Accurate diagnosis in the area of neuromusculosketal disorders is often a tricky job. Most of the time, when a patient presents with a certain set of symptoms, there may be several different possible causes.

The challenge is to be able, from the case history, physical examination and imaging studies, to sift through the plethora of potential causes of the patient's pain or discomfort. In medicine and in chiropractic there are a great many common disorders that get overlooked because they mimic other well-known, but often, less common problems. These 'imitators' are very frequently located in the musculo-skeletal system.

One of these 'imitators' is the scalene muscle group. This is a set of muscles located on the front of the neck. The scalene muscles play an integral role in the function of breathing and the movement of the rib cage thus affecting the movement of your trunk and midback. The muscles also assist in turning, flexing and extending your head and neck. Because of their complex function, they can create a complete set of symptoms. The symptoms may mimic that of a herniated disc in the neck, thoracic outlet syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome and peripheral nerve problems.

The scalene muscles run along the side of the neck. They attach to cervical discs C2, C3, C4, C5, C6 and C7; and they attach to the collarbone and the first two ribs. Muscles attach to bones and if they are tight or shortened they will cause pressure on joints and discs in your neck.

SYMPTOMS

- Neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain

- Tight muscles in the neck can also lead to compression of the vertebrae making the neck stiff and difficult to tilt or rotate

- Numbness of whole arm and hand which can be constant or intermittent

- Deep ache or pain into arms and/or shoulders

- Pain can be worse in bed causing a disruption to sleep patterns

- Feeling of the circulation to the arm being cut off

- If the circulation becomes restricted, the hands and fingers can become white and even blue and feel cold

- Extreme tightness of the scalenes may also cause the upper ribs to be elevated affecting breathing.

CAUSES

Shortening of the scalene is most often the result of poor, repetitious or strenuous postures that produce constant tension in the neck and shoulder area. Static postures such as those sustained by assembly line workers, cash register operators, students or prople that spend a lot of time in front of a computer or driving a car. This results in a drooping shoulder and forward head posture. Carrying heavy loads, briefcases and shoulder bags can also lead to tightness in the scalene. In addition occupations and sports which require repetitve overhead arm movements also produce scalene tightness.

THE SOLUTION

A combination of muscle releases and chiropractic adjustments of the neck and upper back are needed to relieve the tension in the muscles and to correct the abnormal motion of the neck works effectively to reduce the symptoms and relieve pressure on the nerves and blood vessels. Once the movement of the neck is satisfactory we may give you stretches and other exercises to do at home. But for the treatment to be effective long-term, you must also address the cause. Improve poor posture, modification of your work station etc...

It is never to early or to late to seek the help of a chiropractor. My yongest patient is 6 months old and my oldest is 91. Both age groups have had great results with their indiviual problems. All we do is correct the underlying causes of joint dysfunction so that the body can heal.

For further information on how chiropractic treatment can help, contact us on 09 378 0069.

Karen Williams

B.Sc. M. Chiropractic MNZCA

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