If you tilt your head back and turn it to your right, you can feel a large muscle in the neck that runs from your collarbone to the jaw near your ear. The sternocleidomastoid -- or SCM -- muscle can become tight and immobile from stress or having a forward head posture. Stretching this muscle can alleviate neck and jaw pain, making your head feel several pounds lighter.
Stretching your SCM can be done while sitting at your desk or standing up. Laterally tilt your head to your right and then tilt your head back to look up. Hold the stretch for five to six deep breaths while keeping your shoulders down. Turn your left palm forward to increase the stretch in your shoulders and upper trapezius.
Forward Head Posture
Spending too much time working on your computer or writing at a desk can make your head jut forward. The forward head posture is the hyperextension of your neck, in which your head is positioned a few inches forward from your shoulder girdle. This increases the amount of weight your cervical spine has to support. For every inch your head moves forward, 10 pounds of additional pressure weight down upon your neck and shoulders, according to Chiro.org. Your SCM gets stiff from working harder to support your neck, preventing your jaw from dropping toward your chest.
Beyond the Neck
Stretching the SCM alone won't necessarily prevent the forward head posture or alleviate all your neck and shoulder aches. Since your SCM is connected to your chest and rectus abdominis, stretching and moving the latter two muscle groups can affect your SCM's mobility and elasticity, according to massage therapist Thomas Myers, author of "Anatomy Trains." Before you stretch your neck, try stretching your chest and abs first with exercises such as the standing doorway chest stretch and prone cobra.
Deep and slow breathing with your belly will enhance relaxation during the stretch. Holding your breath will only make the SCM and shoulders tighter. While you stretch, you can palpate the SCM and gently massage the muscle by running your index and middle finger slowly along the muscle. If you experience pain while you stretch, check with your physician or chiropractor before you continue to stretch.