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Neck Series Part II: All about this little unique neck muscle- sternocleidomastoid (SCM)

Welcome back for another neck series.  Did everyone give the range-of-motion test a try?  Did both left, right, front, and back sides feel even and pain-free?  Hope it did!

Below is a chart to compare your ranges.  Hooray for charts!



Cervical Spine Direction Degrees of Range (Approx. degrees)
Flexion 50
Extension 60
Lateral Flexion 45
Lateral Rotation 80


Today, we will be looking at one of the most unique muscles of the neck, the sternocleidomastoid (SCM).  This muscle is located in the front of your neck on both left and right sides and controls movements associated with the neck.  It has attachments on the sternum, clavicle, and temporal bone of your skull (mastoid process), hence the name sterno-cleido-mastoid.  To locate the muscle, simply rotate your chin to one shoulder and the SCM will simply pop out and become distinct in the front of your neck.  Palpate from behind the ear, down towards the front of the neck.  Here are the anatomical all-star stats for the SCM:



(where the muscle starts)

 Manubrium (sternum)

Clavicle (collar bone)


(where the muscle ends)

 Mastoid process (behind the ear)
Action on C-spine

(movement it produces)

Bilaterally (both sides together)

  • flexion
  • extension


Unilaterally (one side only)

  • lateral flexion (ear to shoulder)
  • lateral rotation to opposite side (chin to opposite shoulder)
Nerve Innervation

Spinal accessory nerve (XI)

Sensory supply from C2 and C3


So why are we looking at this muscle?  The SCM is highly susceptible to something we call myofascial trigger points.  These points generally feel painful and very tender upon palpation.  You may even feel “knots” when palpating these muscles.  Trigger points form because the muscle is too overworked, stressed, and ultimately tight. Each muscle will have a unique referral pain away from the muscle itself.


Most often, injury/dysfunction of this muscle typically comes from poor head-neck posture or from trauma such as whiplash.  Here are some common signs and symptoms you may be experiencing:


  • Neck pain
  • Headaches (occipital, temporal, frontal, or around the eyes)
  • Migraines with visual disturbances
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in upper chest


As massage therapists, when considering treatment goals, we want to make sure these trigger points are addressed and that everything is properly aligned.  Without proper alignment, the muscle will not be able to function optimally.  Here are some tips and tricks on treating your SCM:


  1. Stretch the muscle
  • Make sure your head and neck are properly aligned in a neutral position
  • Tilt your chin up slightly as if you are gazing at the stars.
  • Proceed to bring your hand over your head onto the temple
  • Bring your ear to your shoulder
  • Go slow and stretch only until you feel a nice pulling sensation along the side of the neck.  Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Make sure to avoid any unnecessary pain and keep your shoulders down.
  1. Self-release
    • Locate the muscle by first rotating the chin to one side.
  • Lightly pinch/grab the muscle belly


  • While holding onto the muscle, align yourself in a neutral position looking straight ahead.
  • Perform slow movements of ear to opposite shoulder repetitively
  • Self-releases should only be performed 20 to 30 seconds at a time with rest between sessions.

Give the stretch and self-release a try for yourself.  Hope you find some sort of relief with them!  Please stay tuned for more content including videos and more posts about the neck muscles.  Cheers!

By: Jonathan Chang, RMT, SMT(cc)




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