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Neck Mobility: Exercising Your Sternocleidomastoid

Last updated: June 10, 2022

Sternocleidomastoid pain is an aggravating experience that many people have, whether they participate in sports, engage in bodybuilding, or if they are a stay-at-home parent with a baby that they carry around all day. How can this type of pain affect people who seemingly have different lifestyles?

Exercising the sternocleidomastoid muscle is an important part of stretching or exercise routines. You likely want to know what the sternocleidomastoid is and where it is in your body before learning about the benefits of sternocleidomastoid exercises. Let’s check out the importance of the sternocleidomastoid muscle and learn some exercises that help with improving strength and decreasing pain.

What is the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle?

The sternocleidomastoid muscle is composed of two divisions, consisting of the clavicular, or short head division, and the sternal, or long head division. The location of the long, thick muscle is at the base of your skull and at either side of the neck, and behind your ears. Healthline lists four functions of the sternocleidomastoid, which includes:

  • Aids in proper breathing and respiration
  • Helps to turn your head from side to side
  • Flexes the neck to bring the ear down to your shoulder
  • Bends your neck forward to bring the chin to your chest

The sternocleidomastoid also helps to stabilize your head if you bend your head backwards, and aids in chewing and swallowing food. Healthline provides a picture of the sternocleidomastoid.

What Causes Pain in the Sternocleidomastoid?

The sternocleidomastoid muscle has several roles in your daily activities, and is also important when you exercise or work out.

You do not have to engage in strenuous exercise to experience pain in the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Some causes of pain result from activities that include:

  • Carrying heavy objects in an awkward position
  • Exhibiting poor posture during work or leisure time spent hunching over a computer
  • Holding your neck in an awkward position for an extended period
  • Sleeping in an awkward position
  • Experiencing injury to other muscles of your neck or back

Medical News Today indicates that having arthritis in the spine, trauma to the side of your neck or myofascial pain syndrome sometimes contributes to sternocleidomastoid pain.

How do you strengthen your sternocleidomastoid, or get relief for pain in the area? Let’s learn how sternocleidomastoid exercises and neck tightening exercises are proven ways to help you relieve pain and strengthen your neck.

Sternocleidomastoid Exercises

Studies show that engaging in active and passive measures, such as proper exercise techniques, helps to maintain or restore the biomechanical movement of the sternocleidomastoid muscle and other muscles of the neck.

Start slowly when you try these exercises for your sternocleidomastoid muscle area, even if you have a healthy spine and neck.

Cervical Flexion

One exercise is cervical flexion. Sit upright in a chair. Tilt your head forward slowly and then back again. Do not move your entire body forward. Repeat several times, but do not continue if you begin to feel additional strain.

Neck Rotations

Face forward while standing or sitting on a chair. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed as you exhale and slowly turn your head to the right. Inhale as you slowly return your neck and head to the forward-facing position. Exhale and turn your head slowly to the left and then back to the forward-facing position. Do 10 rotations on each side. You may need to start with fewer rotations if you experience pain or difficulty with the exercise.

Bruegger Exercise

The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association lists various exercises, including the Bruegger Exercise, which a patient engaged in as part of treatment for sternocleidomastoid syndrome. Researchers described the exercise.

Sit at the edge of a chair, “anterior pelvic tilt, chin tuck, hands turned outward, thumbs up pointing upward and behind shoulders, fingers wide apart.”

Neck Tightening Exercises

Did you know that neck exercises that help to reduce or eliminate the loose, sagging skin caused by aging or sun damage are exercises that may help to strengthen the sternocleidomastoid? Consumer Health Digest lists several exercises that target areas with turkey neck or loose skin, while also strengthening your neck muscles.

One example is the side chin lift. Place your lower lip over your top lip. Raise your chin until you are looking at the ceiling. Move your head to one side. Lower your head to your shoulder. Bring your head back to the front. Repeat on the other side.

The chin thrust is similar to the cervical flexion exercise. Move your neck forward without moving your shoulders or chest. Hold for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat the chin thrusts several times.

Neck Exercises Machine

A Daily Health Study contributor explains that exercising with a neck exercises machine may help to reduce pain and prevent injury. Two neck exercises machines to consider include the Posture Pulley and the Prolordotic Neck Exerciser.

The Posture Pulley

The Posture Pulley has a neck strap that wraps around your head. It helps to correct forward-leaning posture and helps to align the neck. It strengthens the cervical curve and adds stability to neck muscles.

The Posture Pulley is used more commonly in homes or in physical therapy settings, rather than at gyms.

Prolordotic Neck Exerciser

Stuart at Cyber Athletiks is a gamer who knows the toll that gaming and regular daily activities often take on the body. He experienced neck and back pain firsthand and tried the Prolordotic Neck Exerciser.

The resistive neck machine helps to align your spine and helps to correct your posture, even though it is a simple device. You simply place the resistance band around your neck and carefully pull on it, using the hand grips on the device.


Is it okay to exercise if I have a neck injury?

Do not engage in sternocleidomastoid exercises without the approval of your doctor or physical therapist.

What if I experience pain during sternocleidomastoid exercises?

Stop the exercises and contact your doctor before engaging in further neck exercises.

How should I start sternocleidomastoid neck exercises?

Start slow. Gradually increase the length of time that you exercise and the number of times that you repeat each exercise.

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