How to Relieve a Stiff Neck by Stretching the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle

By Sasha Maggio

The Sternocleidomastoid muscles are frequently the location of neck pain and stiffness. These muscles run up the front and sides of the neck and attach behind the ears, allowing the head to turn and rotate in different direction. The Sternocleidomastoid muscles are used every day by everyone but when stiff or sore, movement is greatly reduced. Stretching the Sternocleidomastoid muscles in your neck can relieve stiffness and enhance mobility, preventing future stiffness.

Step 1

Sit with your back straight, shoulders back and down and your head looking forward. Relaxing the shoulders so they are down, away from your ears, is essential for proper stretching and reducing the potential for injury.

Step 2

Turn your face toward one shoulder, moving slow and keeping your head up and chin parallel to the floor. Do not turn your head to the point of pain, but enough to feel the stretch. Hold this position for several moments, then slowly shift your face upward while keeping your chin over your shoulder. Hold for several moments, then lower your face slowly and return to facing straight in front of your chair. Repeat on the other side, and perform three to five sets.

Step 3

Lower your chin and gaze toward the center of your chest, as low as you can without pain. Hold this position for several moments then slowly rotate your face to one side, just enough to feel a stretch in your neck. There should be no pain. Hold this position for a moment then slowly rotate face to the other direction, pausing briefly at the center of your chest again. Hold the position for a moment, with your face turned to the side. Rotate face back to the center of your chest then slowly lift up to the start position. Repeat three more times.

Step 4

Sit with your face forward, shoulders relaxed and down in a natural position, away from your ears, and chin parallel to the floor. Slowly bring your right ear toward your right shoulder, without lifting your shoulder. The ear and shoulder won’t touch, but should stay in line with each other. Hold for a moment. Lower your left shoulder slowly, only a little bit, to intensify the stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold for a moment. Release the stretch and lift the head back to the start position. Repeat on the left side, lowering the right shoulder for the stretch. Repeat three more times.

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