Neck pain seems to be plaguing my clients lately. And the blog series I wrote about neck and shoulder tension are by far my most popular! (Read those here after reading this one.)
So for this blog, we’ll talk about one of the neck flexor muscles: the sternocleidomastoid or SCM for short. Because that’s a huge name! Rightly so, though, as this muscle is a big player in neck pain.
The SCM runs from behind your ear to your collar bone. (See pic below.) You can usually see this muscle contract if you watch someone’s neck when they turn their head to the side. It’s job is to pull your chin down to your chest and rotate your head left and right.
The SCM is typically a culprit in headaches. Like many of the other neck flexor muscles, the SCM is often weak. Our usage of cell phones is hindering the activity of the muscles on the front of our necks.
Your brain stops communicating with the neck flexor muscles if they aren’t getting used. And they get neurologically weak. The underactive SCM muscle needs to be strengthened. But, you first must relax the overactive muscles.
Neck Pain Exercises
Release the Overactive
Typically, the upper trapezius or levator scapulae muscles will be overactive. They attach to your shoulder blade and pull your head back. It’s common to find muscles that do the opposing job to be creating the muscle imbalance. In this case, it’s a front to back relationship.
Placement is everything when you release the overactive muscles on your back. You want to pin a tennis ball between the top edge of your shoulder blade and the wall. Hold there for 1-2 minutes to self massage your levator scap muscle.
If the ball is too low and close to your spine, you’ll likely be releasing your mid-trap muscles which are typically weak. And when you massage/release a weak muscle, it perpetuates the weakness.
Strengthen the Underactive
After releasing the overactive back muscles, follow with strengthening the neck flexors. In the video below, I show you how to gently activate the SCM.
Do both of these exercises on a daily basis for 2 weeks. Then re-evaluate the level of neck pain you feel.
More education and exercises like this can be found in my Restore the Core for Posture Improvement program.