[Updated on 1 June 2020] The Sternocleidomastoid muscle is the largest and most superficial muscle located in the front portion of the human neck. The Sternocleidomastoid is also known as the SCM or the Sterno muscle or the Sternomastoid. Sternocleidomastoid muscle’s name hails from the Latin name, meaning “Sterno=chest, Cleido in Greek means Clavicle, while Mastros means breast and eidos translate to shape and form.
The Sternocleidomastoid muscle is a long bilateral muscle of the neck that works by flexing the neck both anteriorly and laterally as well as rotate the head contralaterally towards the side of contraction. The Sternocleidomastoid is related closely to certain types of neurovascular structures that pass through the human neck leading to the head and the periphery of the body.
Does the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Affect Posture?
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The Sternocleidomastoid muscle is the muscle that is found in front of the throat and rotates in the human head. The Sternocleidomastoid muscle acts as a big rope that connects your head to the rest of the body, this is, the rib cage and shoulder grill
On your back, there is a massive muscle that has a diamond shape that functions to stabilize the shoulder blades found on the back. It also aids in the assorted movements of the trapezius (Blades) that are normally connected at the base of the human head on either shoulder and a big portion of the thoracic spine. It is important to note that all the movements of the shoulder blades will involve the trapezius at some point, and it also has some minor involvement when it comes to the tilting and turning of your head.
Your shoulder grill hangs from both these muscles along with the omohyoid. Your shoulder girdle is suspended right above your rib cage. Neither the shoulder blades nor the collar bones should directly be in contact with your ribcage.
The forward head posture is what affects the relationship between these two muscles, throwing them into disarray. Remember, when your head moves forward, your spine goes along with it. The result is your shoulder blades moving forward, as well.
The result is the trapezius also becomes involved in the turning of the head as well as nodding, significantly affecting your posture. The focus of effort changes from the back of your neck to the front of your throat (where it needs to come from). It’s important to note that having a forward head posture throws off several key relationships in your body, and for humans, the main cause of the forward head posture is the tucked pelvis as well as a poor abdominal tone.
Forward Head Posture
Your overall posture is the position that is assumed by your body either with the support during muscular inactivity or using the coordinated action of several muscles working to help maintain stability or rather form an essential basis that is being adapted constantly to the movement that is superimposed on it. In an erect position, your body segments are normally aligned so that the torques and stresses are minimized using less energy expenditure when standing.
A forward head posture or FHP or poking chin normally involves an increased flexion of the lower cervical vertebrae as well as the upper thoracic regions. There’s also increased extensions of the upper cervical vertebra and the extension of the occiput on the C1. The forward head posture is normally considered to co-exist with hyperextension of the human upper cervical spine, rounding of the upper back, flattening of the lower cervical spine, and the elevation and protraction of the shoulders. The forward head posture may also result in craniofacial pain, neck ache, headache, and shoulder pain, together with a decreased range of cervical motion, tenderness, and muscle stiffness.
What happens When you Have Forward Head Posture?
A person with a forward head posture will have their head shift anteriorly from the line of gravity, the scapula may also rotate medially, and a thoracic kyphosis may form, and the overall vertebral height may be shortened. Normally, there is an obliteration of the cervical lordosis, with a compensatory tilting back of the head at the Atlanto-occipital joint.
At the posterior cervical muscles, there’s an overaction causing the shortening of the semispinalis capitis as well as the weakness and stretching of the Semispinalis cervicis. The Longus Cervicis and the Longus Capitis are the corresponding flexor muscles that are located at the front, also known to shorten and lengthen, respectively.
What causes Front head Posture?
- Sleeping in a position where the head is elevated too high
- Gravitational effects such as slouching or poor ergonomic alignment
- Texting posture when maintained for a prolonged period
- Occupational posture caused by backward or forward-leaning of the head over a long time, relaxed or slouched sitting positions, poor sitting posture while using the computer
- Poor development of the back-muscle strength
Symptoms of Forward Head Posture
- There will be abnormal compression on the posterior portions of the intervertebral discs as well as the posterior zygapophyseal joints.
- Individuals will have an increased flexion (forward head) caused by the Anterior location of the line of gravity that requires constant isometric muscle contraction to help support the head, often resulting in pain and ischemia.
- The Narrowing action of the intervertebral foramina located at the lordotic areas of the cervical region will interrupt the circulation of the blood vessels as well as the nerve roots. This is more pronounced when there are degenerative changes.
- There will be a stretch of the suprahyoid muscles that pull the mandible posteriorly into retrusion that will result in temporomandibular joint pain as well as associated fascial tension.
Sternocleidomastoid muscle and pain
Pain associated with the Sternocleidomastoid muscle occurs due to a number of reasons; however, most often, it is due to muscle tension. If there is tightness in another part of your body, it could also lead to pain in your Sternocleidomastoid muscle. Your SCM will also become short or tight from the following activities:
- Constant looking down at your phone
- Turning your head away from the center while using a computer
- Bending forward posture
SCM will also be caused by other chronic conditions such as asthma, as well as infections like flu and sinusitis. The following are other causes of SCM:
- Injuries from whiplash effect or a fall
- Certain jobs such as carpentry, overhead painting or hanging curtains.
- Forward head position
- Sleeping on your stomach
- Wearing a tight shirt collar or a tie
- Sudden movements
- Tight chest muscles
What are Common Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Pain Symptoms
There are several ways in which you can experience SCM pain. More often your shoulders, neck and upper back will be especially sensitive to pressure or touch. You will also experience pain in your sinuses, forehead or near your eyebrows.
Individuals will also experience dull, aching pain that is often accompanied by a feeling of pressure or tightness. Sharp pain will be experienced when trying to turn or tilt the head. More serious injuries will be in the form of redness, swelling, and even bruising, there’s also a possibility of muscle spasm. The following are common symptoms that may be experienced:
- Difficulty holding your head up
- Muscle fatigue
- Imbalance and dizziness
- Unexplained tears
- Ringing in your ears
- Migraine headaches or tension
- Scalp irritation
- Affected visibility such as light appearing dimmed or blurry vision
- Pain in the neck, jaw and at the back of your head
Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Stretches and Exercises
To effectively perform these stretches, you are required to set at least 15 minutes each day to perform a few stretches and yoga poses. The following are examples you could use to get started.
This exercise can be performed seated or standing facing forward. Exhale, and then slowly turn your head to the right. Ensure that your shoulders remain relaxed and down. Inhale and then return your head to a center position. Exhale, and turn, facing your shoulder position over to your left. Repeat the rotations ten times on each side.
This stretch can be performed seated or standing facing forward. To begin, breathe out as you tilt slowly towards your right ear down towards your shoulder. Apply some gentle pressure to your head using your right hand and ensure the stretch is deep. Now, hold for a few breaths, feeling the stretch on the side of the neck down towards the collarbone. As you inhale, return to your starting position. Repeat this on the opposite side. Now, repeat the tilt ten times on each side.
To perform this stretch, stand with your feet about four feet apart. Face your right toes forward, and your left toes out in a slight angle. Ensure your hips are squared, and your face is forward in the same direction as your toes are pointing. Now, lift your arms at your sides so that they are parallel to the floor.
Now, hinge at your hips slowly so that they are in a position where they can fold forward. Only stop when your torso is parallel to the floor. The next step is to move your left hand towards your leg, a block, or even the floor, anything you can reach. Extend your right arm so that it is straight-up with your palm facing away from your body. Turn your gaze so that you are looking towards your right thumb. Exhale to turn your neck to face the floor.
Now, inhale as you return your gaze upwards. It’s important to keep the rest of your body stable and continue these neck rotations as you stay in the pose for up to one minute. Do this for the opposite side too.
An upward plank will help you passively hang on your head back and down; this will help in releasing the tension that is in your shoulders as well as your neck. Ultimately, it will strengthen and lengthen your Sternocleidomastoid muscles, chest and your shoulder muscles. It is important to ensure that the back of your neck is fully relaxed to avoid compressing your spine.
In case it feels uncomfortable letting your head hang back, tuck your chin into your chest and lengthen the back of your neck. Make sure you focus on engaging the neck muscles without causing any strain. You can allow your head to hang at the back on some support like a chair, stacked blocks or a wall.
To perform this stretch, come to a seated position ensuring your legs are extended in Infront of you. Press your palms to the floor towards your hips. Now lift your hips, bringing your feet under your knees. It is important that you deepen this pose by straightening your legs. Now, open your chest and let your head drop back. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Repeat this pose up to three times.
Simple Adjustments you can do to Relieve SCM Pain Caused by Poor Posture
Posture and ergonomic
Treating this condition can be as simple as making changes to your posture, especially if you do certain activities or work in a position that is causing the pain. You may also change the position of your desk or chair, and instead of using a phone between your shoulder and ear, instead, use a headset.
Sleep Comfort and Clothing
It’s important that you have enough room in the neck of your shirts and ties. If possible, wear a neck brace while sleeping. This will help your neck to remain in the correct position. You can use a rolled towel beneath your neck to help support the curve that the base of your skull.
if possible, consider getting a massage as often as once a week. Massages help relieve muscle tension as well as stress, even though the outcomes are often short-term. It’s possible to perform self-massage on your neck, head, and shoulders for about ten minutes each day. You can use alternative therapies such as chiropractic acupuncture.
Hot and cold packs
You can use hot and cold therapies to treat pain at home since they are a simple option. These therapies will help reduce pain, relieve swelling, and relax muscles. To effectively do this apply a heating pad or an ice pack on the affected area for about 20 minutes throughout the day. If you alternate between the two, ending with a cold treatment.