Stretching Series: Sternocleidomastoid


This muscle is one of those which is probably either on your top 5 treatment list or on your “I hate this muscle” treatment list. Either way, it is very important clinically to know how to stretch this muscle. It is involved in many conditions including upper cross syndrome, forward head posture, disc injuries, and, last but not least, headaches and migraines. Also, because of its unique anatomy, it has the capability limiting multiple motions of the neck which can limit the general mobility of the cervical spine.   If we can learn to stretch this muscle we can help fight all of these conditions.

The key to stretching this muscle is knowing what motions this muscle actually does so we can model our stretch accordingly. The simplified actions of SCM are contralateral rotation (rotation to the opposite side), lateral flexion, and flexion of the cervical spine. It also helps elevate the clavicle and sternum with heavy breathing. Knowing these motions we can know how to stretch each side individually.  Since this muscle does multiple motions we will use multiple motions to stretch it.

The Stretch

Pre-Note:  For easy reference, we will use the right side as the one being stretched.

  • Begin in a standing position with arms at your side.
  • Extend the cervical spine back to until a slight pull is felt in the anterior neck.
  • Maintaining extension of the neck, add right cervical rotation to lengthen the tissue.

  • Next, add lateral flexion of the neck to the left until a specific stretch is felt in the SCM.
  • Finish the stretch by exhaling actively and fully to depress the sternum, clavicle, and ribs, to maximize the stretch.

Note: This stretch is mildly complicated and may take some practice to feel how your body needs to move in order to obtain an effective stretch.  Each one of the motions listed is where you as an individual can experiment with altering the stretch to make it more effective. As long as the combination of the three is still done, any amount of each can be altered.

Another Note: Caution should be used with head extension as moving the head too far into this position can lead to dizziness and fainting in some cases. In extreme cases, stroke can occur.

Click for Printable Patient Version



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2 Replies to “Stretching Series: Sternocleidomastoid”

  1. These are fantastic. Thanks for sharing. Am I able to share with my clients too? I would like to print to show them how to do these stretches. Will be leaving your name etc on them just adding my own logo as well.

    1. I’m glad you like them! The primary reason why I have put these together is for patient use. I have provided links in the posts for simplified versions for patients which are in PDF format. Simply click on the link and print them off. I’m glad you are using them! You are welcome to put your logo on them but please keep my info on them. Thanks for asking!

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