Tight neck muscles are a common problem for many people. Whether you spend long hours hunched over a computer, experience stress and tension, or simply have poor posture, your neck muscles can become tense and stiff. One key muscle that often suffers from tightness is the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle. In this guide, we’ll discuss the importance of the SCM muscle, its functions, and how to properly stretch and release it to alleviate related issues.
Table of Contents
Understanding the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) Muscle
Anatomy of the SCM Muscle
The sternocleidomastoid muscle is one of the largest and most superficial cervical muscles in the neck. It lies within the investing fascia of the neck, alongside the trapezius muscle. The SCM muscle originates at the manubrium of the sternum, and the clavicle, inserting at the mastoid process of the temporal bone of the skull. The accessory nerve of the same side innervates the SCM, with the signaling process beginning in Cranial Nerve XI.
Functions of the SCM Muscle
The SCM muscle serves several critical functions, including:
- Rotating the head to the opposite side
- Obliquely rotating the head
- Flexing the neck
Examination of the SCM forms part of the cranial nerve examination, making it an essential muscle in maintaining proper neck function and mobility.
Consequences of a Tight SCM Muscle
When the SCM muscle becomes tight, it can lead to a condition called torticollis or a wry neck. This tightness is common in many individuals and may be associated with a forward head posture, inefficient breathing patterns, headaches, and neck stiffness. Regular stretching of the SCM muscle can help alleviate these issues and promote overall neck health.
The 5 Best Sternocleidomastoid Stretches and Release Techniques
In this section, we’ll outline the five best stretches for the SCM muscle and two release techniques to loosen up the tight neck muscle before stretching. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional before attempting any new exercises or stretches to ensure they are safe for you.
Before you begin the SCM stretches, it’s essential to release the tight neck muscle using the following techniques:
- SCM Release: Gently press your fingers into the SCM muscle and move them up and down along the length of the muscle. Apply gentle pressure, and hold each point for 5-10 seconds before moving on to the next spot.
- SCM Glide: Place your fingers on the SCM muscle near the collarbone. Apply gentle pressure, and glide your fingers upward toward the mastoid process (the bony prominence behind your ear). Repeat this gliding motion several times to help release the muscle.
Once you have completed the release techniques, you can begin the following sternocleidomastoid stretches:
- SCM Stretch: Sit or stand with good posture. Gently tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder. With your opposite hand, reach over your head and gently pull your head further into the stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
- SCM Stretch Variation: Start in the same position as the first SCM stretch. Tilt your head to one side, but this time, turn your head slightly so that your chin is pointing upward. Gently pull your head with the opposite hand to deepen the stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
- Chair Lean: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and your hands resting on your thighs. Slowly lean your torso forward while keeping your head and neck in a neutral position. As you lean forward, slide your hands down your legs until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 15-30 seconds and return to the starting position.
- Neck Elongation: Stand or sit with proper posture. Place your hands on the top of your head, interlocking your fingers. Gently press down on your head, elongating your neck and feeling a stretch along the entire length of your SCM muscle. Hold for 15-30 seconds and release.
- Seated SCM Stretch: Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Grasp the edge of the chair with one hand and gently tilt your head to the opposite side. You can use your other hand to gently pull your head further into the stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Tips for Effective SCM Stretching
To get the most out of your sternocleidomastoid stretches, keep the following tips in mind:
- Warm-up: Make sure to warm up your neck muscles with gentle movements and light self-massage before stretching.
- Breathe: Focus on deep, slow breaths while stretching. This will help to relax your muscles and enhance the effectiveness of the stretch.
- Consistency: Stretch your SCM muscle regularly, ideally every day or every other day, to maintain flexibility and prevent tightness.
- Listen to your body: If you experience pain or discomfort during a stretch, stop immediately and consult a healthcare professional.
The Benefits of Regular Sternocleidomastoid Stretching
By incorporating regular SCM stretching into your routine, you can expect the following benefits:
- Reduced Neck Stiffness: Stretching the SCM muscle can help alleviate neck stiffness, making it easier to move your head and neck throughout the day.
- Improved Posture: A tight SCM muscle is often associated with forward head posture. Regular stretching can help correct this issue and promote better overall posture.
- Reduced Headaches: Tension headaches are often caused by tight neck muscles, including the SCM. Regular stretching can help reduce the frequency and intensity of these headaches.
- Better Breathing: A tight SCM muscle can contribute to inefficient breathing patterns. By stretching this muscle, you can help improve your breathing and overall well-being.
- Increased Mobility: Regular SCM stretching can help improve the range of motion in your neck, making it easier to perform everyday tasks and engage in physical activities.
Preventing Future SCM Tightness
In addition to regular stretching, there are several measures you can take to prevent your SCM muscle from becoming tight in the future:
- Maintain Proper Posture: Be mindful of your posture throughout the day, particularly when sitting at a desk or using electronic devices. Keep your head and neck in a neutral position and avoid hunching forward.
- Take Breaks: If you spend long hours sitting or standing in one position, take regular breaks to move and stretch your neck muscles.
- Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration is essential for overall muscle health. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your muscles hydrated and functioning optimally.
- Stress Management: Practice stress management techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or exercise, to help alleviate tension in your neck muscles.
- Regular Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to maintain overall muscle health and flexibility. By incorporating regular stretching and self-care practices, you can help keep your SCM muscle flexible and prevent future tightness or discomfort. If you experience any pain or discomfort in your neck, consult a healthcare professional for advice.
- Stretch Regularly: Make sure to stretch your SCM muscle at least once per day to maintain flexibility and prevent tightness.
The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle is responsible for stabilizing the neck and head, as well as controlling movement. This muscle can become tight due to poor posture, extended periods of sitting or standing in one position, stress, dehydration, and more. Regular stretching is an effective way to maintain flexibility in your SCM muscle and prevent future tightness. By incorporating regular stretching into your routine, you can improve your posture, reduce tension headaches, improve your breathing, and increase your flexibility.
In addition to stretching, maintaining proper posture throughout the day, taking breaks from sitting or standing in one position for extended periods of time, staying hydrated, practicing stress management techniques, and engaging in regular physical activity can help prevent future SCM tightness.
If you experience any pain or discomfort during a stretch, stop immediately and consult a healthcare professional. With the right preventive measures, you can protect your neck muscles from discomfort and maintain an optimal range of motion.