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.
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.
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