Neck pain at work can often be related to tight muscles on the front of the neck. The biggest of these anterior neck muscles is the sternocleidomastoid.
The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle is often shortened by a desk posture that pulls the head forward and down. Stretching the SCM can help correct this poor postural pattern.
Caution: If you have any concern at all about a possible neck injury (whether it’s a chronic condition or a recent accident, fall, sports injury, etc.), see your doctor before attempting this or any other exercise.
We’ll stretch the left SCM first.
- With your right hand, reach across your body and gently hook your fingertips over your left collarbone (clavicle) to hold it in place.
- Tuck your chin down and back and lift your head toward the ceiling. Hold this position throughout the exercise.
- Rotate your head about 25-30 degrees to the left (that’s not very far at all, only about a third of the total distance your head can rotate). Your chin should now be directly over the hand that is stabilizing your clavicle.
- Tilt your head sideways to the right. You should feel a good stretch on the front of your neck.
- Hold the stretch for 3-10 seconds and repeat 3-10 times.
- Reverse the instructions and repeat to stretch the right SCM.
- Yes, you are turning your head one way and tilting it the other. This has to do with the unique anatomical set-up of the SCM.
- If you know your anatomy and are comfortable doing a self-massage pin-and-stretch, you can gently grasp the SCM (both the sternal and clavicular heads) at the base of your neck instead of holding down the clavicle. You may want to use a little oil or lotion.
I found this exercise online about five years ago and printed it out, but without the URL or other identifying information. Google searches now turn up only a page that is an incomplete copy of the original. If you are the original author or know who is, please let me know so that I can correctly attribute this terrific exercise.