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The Sternocleidomastoid

      Sternocleidomastoid, “What did you call me?” The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) is a muscle in the front of the neck that attaches the sternum, clavicle up to the jaw. You can feel it pop out when turning your head to one side. When you turn your head to the left, you will notice it pop out on the front, right side of your throat. For those who have ever had a massage with me, particularly a session where we were trying to relieve neck pain, you may have jumped off of the table or wondered if the curse words flying through your mind had flown out of your mouth. This is because there can be intense trigger points lying deep inside these muscles, especially when they are tight.            In massage school, we were introduced to this muscle as the muscle that turns our head to the opposite side or flexion of the neck, the movement of looking down and assists in breathing. We learned that this is the muscle to treat when waking up with a stiff neck and you can’t turn your to the side, where range of motion is restricted. We also learned to treat these muscles for incidents of whiplash. Over the years, I have observed these muscles seem to be extremely tight on people who have been in a car accident, look down for extended periods of time, working long hours on the computer, adoring your new baby, reading, or have chronic neck pain, tension or arthritis from some other trauma. Other activities that could cause trigger points to develop in the SCM are overhead activities, keeping your head turned to one side for a prolonged period of time, forward head posture, looking at a computer monitor to one side, holding a phone with one shoulder, stomach sleeping, heavy lifting, falls and whiplash, wearing a tight collar, a short leg or scoliosis or awkward posture, stress and tension, chronic cough or asthma, and chest breathing.            The SCM can be responsible for common troubles like headaches, jaw pain and stiffness in the neck or more obscure problems like dizziness, brain fog, blurry vision or in some cases hearing loss. Other complications that are even harder to trace back to a tight SCM are tooth ache, nausea, a dry cough, hoarseness of the voice, or a cold sweat on the forehead.              The great thing about these muscles, in my opinion, is that even a little bit of work loosens them up and you can work these muscles out on your own! From my experience, the SCM will respond very well to even a few minutes of self massage. If you would like to try to self massage these muscles to reduce trigger points and prevent the symptoms previously mentioned, turn your head slightly away from the side you are going to work on so the muscle pops out. Then, grab the muscles with your fingers and pinch it. If it hurts when you pinch it, chances are they are causing some symptoms for you, whether you are aware of them or not. The key to self massaging these trigger points is to squeeze them hard enough to possible feel a sensation that could be described as a ‘good pain’ or to recreate the symptoms they may be causing, but not so hard that it causes you to tense up for other muscles to spasm. You can back off after the first round, and try to squeeze a little harder the second time. By working on these muscles 3-6 times a day, you should really notice relief, become more aware of what activities are causing the tightness in your SCM and reduce your symptoms in about a 2 week period.               For further information or to schedule an appointment, please contact Ambrosia Brown at Alison Palmer Physical Therapy and Wellness Center at 435-260-1122,, , We are located in the Cimarron Lodge at the bottom of Lift 7, next to Carhenge Parking Lot. Wellness is the full integration of mind, body and spirit. We look forward to helping you towards a healthier life.

         Please be aware, Ambrosia has accepted an internship at her thai massage school in Chiang Mai, Thailand to further her studies in Nuad Boran “Thai massage’, this fall. She will be leaving Telluride September 1st and returning December 17th 2017.

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