Scalene muscles

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Scalene muscles
The anterior vertebral muscles.
Section of the neck at about the level of the sixth cervical vertebra. Showing the arrangement of the fascia coli.
Origin Cervical vertebrae (CII-CVII)
Insertion First and second ribs
Ascending cervical artery
(branch of Inferior thyroid artery)
Cervical nerves (C3-C6)
Actions Elevation of first and second ribs
Anatomical terms of muscle

The scalene muscles (from Greek σκαληνός, or skalenos, meaning uneven[1] as the pairs are all of differing length[2]) are a group of three pairs of muscles in the lateral neck, namely the anterior scalene, middle scalene, and posterior scalene. They are innervated by the fourth, fifth, and sixth cervical spinal nerves (C4-C6).

A fourth muscle, the scalenus minimus (Sibson's muscle), is sometimes present behind the lower portion of the anterior scalene.[2]

Origin and insertion[edit]

They originate from the transverse processes from the cervical vertebrae of C2 to C7 and insert onto the first and second ribs. Thus they are called the lateral vertebral muscles.[3]


The action of the anterior and middle scalene muscles is to elevate the first rib and laterally flex (bend) the neck to the same side;[4] the action of the posterior scalene is to elevate the second rib and tilt the neck to the same side.

They also act as accessory muscles of respiration, along with the sternocleidomastoids.


The scalene muscles have an important relationship to other structures in the neck. The brachial plexus and subclavian artery pass between the anterior and middle scalenes.[5] The subclavian vein and phrenic nerve pass anteriorly to the anterior scalene as the muscle crosses over the first rib. The phrenic nerve is oriented vertically as it passes in front of the anterior scalene, while the subclavian vein is oriented horizontally as it passes in front of the anterior scalene muscle.[5]

The passing of the brachial plexus and the subclavian artery through the space of the anterior and middle scalene muscles constitute the scalene hiatus (the term "scalene fissure" is also used). The region in which this lies is referred to as the scaleotracheal fossa. It is bound by the clavicle inferior anteriorly, the trachea medially, posteriorly by the trapezius, and anteriorly by the platysma muscle.

Clinical relevance[edit]

Since the nerves of the brachial plexus pass through the space between the anterior and middle scalene muscles, that area is sometimes targeted with the administration of regional anesthesia by physicians. The nerve block, called an interscalene block, may be performed prior to arm or shoulder surgery.[6] They also act as accessory muscles of respiration when additional effort is required.

See also[edit]

Additional images[edit]


  1. ^ Mosby's Medical, Nursing & Allied Health Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Mosby-Year Book Inc., 1994, p. 1395
  2. ^ a b Davies, Clair; Davies, Amber (2013). The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook (Third ed.). New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 9781608824960. 
  3. ^ Henry Gray (1913). Anatomy: Descriptive and Applied. 
  4. ^ Buford JA, Yoder SM, Heiss DG, Chidley JV (Oct 2002). "Actions of the scalene muscles for rotation of the cervical spine in macaque and human". J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 32 (10): 488–96. doi:10.2519/jospt.2002.32.10.488. PMID 12403200. 
  5. ^ a b Albertine, David A. Morton, K. Bo Foreman, Kurt H. (2011). "Chapter 25: Overview of the Neck, Muscles of the Neck". Gross anatomy: the big picture. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0071476720. 
  6. ^ Graber, Raymound. "Interscalene Nerve Block". WebMD, LLC. Medscape. Retrieved 10 December 2012.