Muscle of the Month: Sternocleidomastoid

Muscle of the Month

By: EriK Cannard, LMT

Sternocleidomastoid is unquestionably my favorite muscle. Not only does it have a fantastic name, its unique position in the body means it has significant effects on our daily lives. Originating at the top of the breastbone and collarbone near the midline, it attaches just behind the ear making it a major muscle in the front of the neck and one of the strongest rotators of the head. People often see their own sternocleidomastoid in the mirror but don’t even realize they are looking at a muscle. If it’s visible, it’s probably working to stabilize or move your heavy head.

The fact that it “pops” away from the neck when in use makes it a very easy muscle to isolate and massage from all sides. I have found sternocleidomastoid in most people to be very receptive to gentle compression and kneading. It often takes very little effort to achieve a significant amount of relief and relaxation in this area.

A slumped posture when working at a computer, holding a phone with your shoulder, tense winter driving and excess stress all contribute to an overly tight sternocleidomastoid. Symptoms of this muscle tension can include stiff neck, jaw pain and headache. If someone comes to me complaining of a tension headache above or behind their eyes, I can guarantee we’ll be doing some work with sternocleidomastoid.