The short-tight muscle I teach you to stretch this week is the sternocleidomastoid or SCM. It's the #1 MOST WANTED MUSCLE for causing:
- Jaw & Dental Pain
- Ear Pain
- Forward Head Posture
- Faulty Breathing Patterns
- Limited Neck Range of Motion
- Thoracic Kyphosis
- Dowagers Hump
Patients often ask me what is the most common area of the body that I treat. It's a tie between the lower back and the neck. This week I'm focusing on the neck. Let's take a look why it's so often a source of stress, tension and pain.
Use The Force (a.k.a. Postural Awareness)
My golden rule I teach my kids everyday in everything they do, is that it's the dose that makes the poison. It applies to your food, hydration, exercise, sleep, career and finances. I encourage you to consider how much time you spend with your head forward from your spine as illustrated above. By being attentive to your posture, using what I call Postural Awareness, you can save yourself a great deal of unnecessary stress, tension and pain - and not only in your neck. By positively influencing your head position numerous hours each day while using electronics, you are laying great foundations for keeping your spine aligned, your muscles balance and preventing unnecessary tension.
FACT: Did you know that your head weighs approximately 10% of your total weight? For every inch your head carries forward from your spine, it adds another 10%! For example, say your head weighs 18-lbs, and is three inches forward off your spine, due to your posture at work. In total your neck muscles have to work overtime to try to withstand the 72-lb weight!
Why do Females Suffer More than Males?
Females have three additional considerations when it comes to neck and back posture. Firstly, they commonly have more hair than men. This additional weight has to be factored in to the load that we just described above. The longer and heavier the hair, the more demand on the neck muscles. It's basic physics. The longer the lever (how far forward the head is) and the heavier the load (how much head weight + hair weight) the greater the demand on the related musculature.
Secondly, on average, females have less muscle strength and size than males. Corrective exercises should be a regular part of their program to bring balance and wellness.
Thirdly, breast size and weight must also be considered. I've treated patient's with implants, whom I've had to educate how to strengthen the spino-scapular muscles (between the shoulder blades) to compensate for this new load introduced to the front of the body. Again, the breast weight must be considered in the math above to understand the impact it will be having long-term on postural habits.
I'm not suggesting to go shave your head, thicken your neck muscles and have a breast reduction! I want to educate you on important factors that you may not have considered, and more importantly, the practical steps you can take to help yourself.
To Stretch or Not To Stretch? That is the question.
What is your natural instinct when something hurts? You touch and rub it. You start massaging right away. Temporarily that feels great. The blood is flowing, it appeases the nervous system and activates pain-relieving hormones. What about after that? Should you stretch, or not? It depends. My philosophy is that if the muscle is frequently in a shortened-tightened position, then it needs to lengthened to a normal state by stretching it. Similarly, if the muscle is in a lengthened-weakened position, then it needs to be returned to a normal state by strengthening it.
Two laws are at play that we need to overcome through regular massage, postural awareness and corrective stretches and exercises:
#1 Davis' Law Under constant tension and strain muscles will lengthen by the addition of new material to the part and, conversely, when tension is released, the unused tissue will be absorbed. In translation this means any muscle that is being pulled away from its points of attachment, becomes longer and weaker. Eventually this triggers a state of hypoxia, which means your muscles are screaming out in pain because they are deprived of an essential fuel - oxygen. As soon as you massage it, it feels better because you have temporarily supplied fresh oxygenated blood.
#2 Law of Facilitation
When an impulse has passed once through a certain set of neurons to the exclusion of others, it will tend to take the same course on future occasions, and each time it traverses the path, the resistance will be less.
In translation this means that any muscle that is shortening toward its points of attachment, becomes shorter and tighter. It can be likened to having high speed internet between the brain and these muscles while the opposing muscles are still on dial up! Imbalance is inevitable until we start to draw our attention to these imbalances and make corrections. Commonly, these muscles are not what patients are complaining about, UNTIL I massage them. They have become so bundled together that when I start releasing this tension, it is painful but incredibly rewarding and transformative for getting to the root of the problem.
Learn this stretch for the SCM that I teach you in my video below. The greater the symptoms, the greater the frequency and intensity that you need to do this stretch.
If you find benefit from this one stretch, be sure to check out my new First Aid for Pain Relief Neck Tension program. This includes 5 additional exercises, stretches and self-massage techniques AND my top 6 nutrition and lifestyle tips to help boost your healing and recovery from stress, tension and pain.
Wishing you a life filled with health, happiness and vitality!
Jason Barlow, RMT.