The sternocleidomastoid muscle, or SCM, is one of the largest muscles of the neck. When the SCM muscle is tight, the jaw protrudes forward. This pulls the head out of its correct alignment. Stretching gets the muscle to relax and return to its normal length so the jaw can stay in its correct position.
The SCM muscle has two portions, both of which rotate and laterally flex the neck and spine. The front portion, called the anterior fibers, flex the neck. The posterior fibers in the back extend the neck. The SCM also assists in flexing the spine. When the SCM is tight, movements in all of these directions are inhibited. Stretching the SCM, therefore, needs to occur in more than one direction to affect both portions of the SCM.
Side Neck Rotations
One way to stretch the SCM is to rotate your neck side to side. This motion stretches the SCM on the side of the neck that you turn away from. The SCM activates to turn the neck. This exercise is easy to do while standing in line, sitting on the couch, at work or even in the shower. Position your neck so that your jaw is perpendicular to your neck throughout this stretching exercise. Unlike some other stretches, the chin does not tuck down or lift up. Simply turn to the left until you feel a stretch in the right side of your neck. Hold for 20 seconds. Turn your head to the right for 20 seconds and then look straight again. Rest for 15 seconds and repeat twice.
Forward Neck Rotations
The forward neck rotations exercise stretches the SCMs through half a neck rotation stretch. Instead of circling your neck all the way around to the front and back, rotating only to the front targets the SCMs. The chin comes down during this exercise to lengthen the muscles in a different way than the other two stretches. To begin, drop your chin slowly to your chest. Lift your chest and retract your shoulders too. Next, rotate your head to the left so that your ear moves toward your shoulder. Slowly rotate to the right. Do a few neck rotations at a slow tempo.
Sternocleidomastoid Stretch With Chin Raise
The SCM stretch with a chin raise involves tilting the chin up instead of dropping it down. Turning to the side begins the stretch and then lifting the chin elongates the muscle. To begin the SCM stretch with chin raise, turn to look to the left and then slowly bring the chin up diagonally to point toward the ceiling. Do not lift the shoulders. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and then reverse the movement. Rest for 15 seconds and then repeat. After three reps, stretch to the right.