Exploring the sternocleidomastoid muscle or SCM
This muscle is quite prominent in the front and sides of the neck, especially when someone turns their head. The SCM can often be related to general head and neck pain, including migraine headaches.
What does sternocleidomastoid muscle mean?
The name sternocleidomastoid breaks down into root words that describe the location of the muscle.
The first part of the word, sterno, comes from the Latin word “sternon” which relates to the sternum (the breastbone).
The second part of the word, cleido, means clavicle, which is the collarbone.
The last part of the word, mastoid, comes from the Greek word “mastos” which means breast-shaped. In this case it refers to a large bony protuberance just behind the ear, called the mastoid process.
You could put all that together to get a muscle that attaches onto the sternum, clavicle, and mastoid process.
Where do the sternocleidomastoid muscles attach?
The sternocleidomastoid muscles originate on the manubrium of the sternum, which is a small handle-like bony area of the breastbone, and on the medial clavicle (collarbone).
They insert on the mastoid process, which is a large bony protuberance behind the ear.
What actions do the sternocleidomastoid muscles do?
The sternocleidomastoid muscles work bilaterally (meaning both sides together) to flex the neck.
The sternocleidomastoid muscles work unilaterally (one side at a time) to do rotation of the neck to the opposite side and lateral flexion of the neck to the same side.
However, in the case of SCM, because the muscles work independently, using one side to rotate the head in the opposite direction means that the muscle on the side that you are rotating toward is getting lengthened. The same is true of lateral flexion. If I tilt my head to the right, the left side of my SCM is getting stretched. Since the sternocleidomastoid muscles on both sides work to flex the neck, extending the neck will lengthen both sides of the SCM simultaneously.
In addition to the movements initiated by the sternocleidomastoid muscles, they also serve an important function in stabilizing the neck.
Poses where the sternocleidomastoid muscles contract:
Poses where the sternocleidomastoid muscles are lengthened:
There are postures that lengthen the front of the neck, but remember that lengthening can be part of an eccentric contraction as well.
Join thousands of yogis when you sign up to our monthly newsletter
Check out our Online Courses and Workshops
David summarizes research which evaluates physical effort needed to do common standing yoga postures and how that effort compares to walking.