The Sternocleidomastoid, or SCM, is a muscle that connects the skull to the collar bone. If you rotate your head from side to side, you will see that it attaches from behind the ear and runs down the front of the neck and attaches to the clavicle at the front of your neck.
This muscle is beefy and strong and keeps pretty busy, so it is no wonder that it is usually tight and causes problems. Many massage clients will put their hand on the back of the neck when complaining about tight neck muscles or tension headache, not realizing that the real culprit is in plain sight, in the front of the neck.
Let’s talk about all the things this over-achieving muscle does; moves the head laterally (like holding a phone on your shoulder), rotates the head from side to side , flexes the neck (looking down at your cell phone) and assists with inhalation by helping to lift the rib cage (stress contributes to tension of rib cage). Basically, if you are moving your head, this muscle is being used. So those of you that use phones; hand sets and cell phones, read or work on laptops in bed or do work that requires you to look down a lot are the ones that will come in complaining about your sore neck and sometimes a headache.
Unfortunately most massage therapists don’t work this area because it is painful for the client and is awkward to do. Most of the time, the attention is on the muscles at the back of the neck, but when you get off the table, the pain will come back quickly if the real problem isn’t addressed.
Here are some ways to prevent and cut down on problems with your neck…
When the back of your neck is tight or painful, take a moment and check in with your body posture. What is the distance between your chin and chest? Have you been looking one direction or the other for a period of time such as in conversation or looking out a car window? By keeping your chin the same distance from your chest as it would be if you were lying down, you will help prevent shortening of the SCM. This will help keep muscles on the back of the neck from being pulled, over-worked and unhappy. A simple stretch for the SCM is to lie on your bed and let your head hang over the edge but keep the neck supported by the edge of the bed. Close your mouth to increase the stretch, and turn your head from side to side, slowly. After a day at the office, this will help keep the SCM loose and the neck will be more comfortable.
The Sternocleidomastoid is a muscle that is used all the time. By being aware of how you are moving your head, monitoring stress and tension levels and using proper body mechanics, you can help prevent this muscle from being a pain in the neck!
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