Sternocleidomastoid (a.k.a. SCM) Release

Sternocleidomastoid (a.k.a. SCM) Release

The anterior neck doesn’t get a lot of press around here, does it? It’s highly functional, but sometimes does too much work (read: it can be a pain in the neck, haha). But, back to that in a minute.

The sternocleidomastoid runs from the side of the head to the middle of the clavicle (<– I always want to spell that clavical, but that’ll always be incorrect.) and the manubrium (basically the head of the sternum). It turns your head to the opposite side and flexes your head to the same side.

Sidebar: there’s this trick I use

When I forget which way a muscle contracts (i.e. in this case, turn the head to the same side…I mean…opposite side 😉 ) I put my thumb and forefinger on the insertion and the attachment and then I feel when my fingers get closer together. See below:

You can definitely see when I flex my neck to the right side that my two fingers get closer, and if you watch closely you can see it when I rotate my head to the left, too. Also, French braid.

It’s a little trick that’s helped me out…play around with it. And, it’s not just for the SCM, but can be used for other muscles too.

Back to the pain in the neck

So now that we’ve gone over where it is and what it does, here’s how to self-release it if you need to. Remember a minute ago when I mentioned that SCM can do a little too much work? Well, I often find that my (and my clients’) SCMs are tight and tender.

Release it if you feel tightness in the neck, have a headache above your eye (not a migraine though), or if you’re consistently in forward head posture (maybe you’re sitting at a computer a lot?).

The cool thing about the SCM is that it’s easy to find. Resist slight pressure on your forehead and you’ll see your SCMs pop out.

Then, GRAB IT. Mwahahahaha. But, seriously:

You have a few options now:

  1. Hold on (it can be slippery!) and wait for the tenderness to subside. SCM feels like a tight band, hang on to it! This can be 10 seconds to 90 seconds.
  2. Hold and slowly turn your head to the same side and/or flex your neck away. You’ll feel a stretch if you do this. [NOTE: Additionally, you can hold at the origin right on the clavicle and manubrium and do this too. It’s a little bit easier and more comfortable if the grab doesn’t feel great.]

Things to know and potentially watch out for:

  1. A pulse. If you feel one, move your hand position or grab less tissue. The anterior neck is full of nerves and major arteries. We need to avoid those at all costs.
  2. The tissue feels like a band when you palpate it.
  3. Don’t push into the neck, slightly pull away.
  4. If you experience a general malaise, stop doing what you’re doing.
  5. This shouldn’t feel like you’re choking whatsoever. If it does, stop and assess where you’re holding.
  6. You might experience referred pain (pain in the area you’re not working). That’s ok. It can present in the forehead, around the eye, at the side of the head and in the ear. The referred pain should go away as you release the SCM.
  7. Be intentional about the release and avoid just poking around in the anterior neck (refer back to #1).


Are you into muscles, too? Check out the most fun and memorable way to learn about them, here.

One thought on “Sternocleidomastoid (a.k.a. SCM) Release

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *