A good head on your shoulders needs a strong neck to support it. I’m not trying to be philosophical or metaphorical, I mean that in a very literal sense. Your neck is full of some of the most vital muscles in your body, responsible for the full range and motion your head can enjoy. Among them, the sternocleidomastoid muscle is the most responsible for where your goes.

Without the sternocleidomastoid, you couldn’t “keep your head on a swivel.” In fact, there couldn’t be much you could do at all. Though it seems like it works just fine as it is, the pursuit of an improved body, or the rehabilitation of it, is always important.

What Is the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle?

It’s easiest to understand by seeing for yourself. Like most of the most prominent muscles in your body, it’s fairly easy to identify. It falls under that category of muscles that you don’t need a medical degree and study to find.

If you’re looking in the mirror, or just feeling for yourself, all you need to do is turn your head. That jutting muscle that extends from your clavicle to your temple is the sternocleidomastoid muscle. If you put your thumb against the top of your sternum, right in that divot where your chest meets your neck, then you’ll feel the muscle flex as your turn your head.

Sternocleid Diagram

Image via: earthslab

The sternocleidomastoid is what does the lion’s share of the work for turning your head. Up, down, left, right – any direction you need to turn is guided and facilitated by this muscle. It’s a pretty important muscle, especially for those living an active lifestyle. A baseball player who can’t turn his head well is handicapped. A football, basketball, or any other sports plays suffers the same.

How Can the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Get Injured?

Like all muscles, injury is the bane of our bodies, but inevitable. The sternocleidomastoid most likely isn’t going to suffer from extreme tears, breaking, or other excessively dramatic injuries. It is, however, susceptible to strains, which will greatly impair your ability to move your head.

The most common accident that damages the sternocleidomastoid is through whiplash. Victims of automobile accidents frequently experience this, as well as players in contact-heavy sports like football. When the muscle becomes overextended extremely quickly, the muscle is stretched beyond its capabilities.

Less common incidents where the sternocleidomastoid can become strained is through heavy lifting. Long hours of staring at a computer screen without moving can also result in damage.

What Are Some of the Symptoms?

As with most strains, you’ll notice redness, swelling, and bruising in the area of the damage. You will begin feeling pain up and down the neck, as well as some strange twitching in your neck area. Largely uncomfortable, painful, and resulting in stiffness, moving your head will become difficult and painful. It’ll take some time for it to heal.

You may also notice headaches and pains in your head and face areas. Damage to the sternocleidomastoid muscle has far-reaching effects on most of your head’s faculties, including dizziness, ringing, and blurriness.

How to Improve Your Sternocleidomastoid Muscle

If you’re injured, a neck brace will be the best support you can get to recover. But the important thing here is knowing how to prepare for it before it happens. Rather than wait until it’s too wait, you may want to strengthen your muscle so you won’t have to deal with a strain. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help improve the strength and function of your sternocleidomastoid muscle.

The best thing to do, like any workout, is to exercise the muscle. Exercises mostly include basic stretches, but also include some weight-based workout routines to help bulk out the muscle.

1. Side and Chin Raise Stretches

Stretches are going to be the most convenient option for neck strengthening you can have in your arsenal. You may not always have equipment for other exercises, but stretches only need your hands. All you need for this exercise is rotating your head and tilting your chin up and away in the direction you’re stretching. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat for the other direction.

If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel your sternocleidomastoid muscles stretching. Alternatively, you can simply turn your head as far as you can to the left and right. You should feel the sternocleidomastoid muscles stretching there too.

2. Forward Rotation Stretches

Unlike the previous stretch, this one requires that you dip your head down rather than up. To start off, you’ll need to lower your chin toward your chest. Once you’re there, get into the proper position by lifting your chest and pulling back your shoulders. You should be in good posture, essentially.

Once you’re ready, all you’ll need to do is rotate your head to the left and right at a slow, steady pace. To make more sense of it, your ears with each rotation should be approaching your shoulders. You should continue on this steady curve motion for a few rotations before you take a break. While doing this properly, you should feel your sternocleidomastoid muscles tense up the more your rotate.

3. Lying Weighted Neck Flexion

Unlike doing regular stretches, using weights should be an infrequent exercise, done around twice a week at most. Any more and you’ll risk damaging your neck muscles. However, though stretching exercises can be done at any time, using weights will provide more muscle strengthening. You won’t need heavy weights, anything fairly light will do perfectly.

Start out by lying down on a bench with the weight in your hands. Weight plates are the best fit for this sort of exercise, since they’re fairly easy to keep a strong grip on. Once you have a handle on the weight, place it over your forehead. You may want a towel separating your head from the plate, both for protection and comfort.

From here, you need to use your neck muscles alone to lift the weight toward your chest. You’ll be moving up and forward. Imagine that you’re tucking your chin for this portion of the exercise. Once you’ve lifted the weight as far as your neck will go, slowly return to your starting position by extending your neck. Continue this exercise for three sets of five reps.

This exercise focuses entirely on using your sternocleidomastoid muscles to control the lift and fall of the weight plate. The more you rely on the use of these muscles, the stronger they’ll be.

4. Lying Weighted Lateral Neck Flexion

In a similar vein of weight-based neck building, this exercise is a slightly modified take on the previous routine. In the last one, you laid down on your back. This time, you’ll start off by laying down on the left side of your body, weight plate in hand.

Once you’re ready, place the weight plate over the right side of your head. Don’t forget to keep a towel between you and the plate. From here, lift your head up as far as it can go toward your shoulder. Slowly extend your head back to the starting position once you’ve reached the extent your neck will go. You’ll want to go through three sets of five reps of this before moving on.

The next step, without moving from the position you’re in, is extending your neck as far to the left as it will go. You’ll be performing the exact same exercise as you were just doing in the opposite direction. As with before, these exercises are best done in three sets of five reps to ensure you don’t hurt your neck.

What Good Does a Strong Neck Really Do For You?

Well, if you haven’t been convinced by the virtues of not injuring yourself on the field, then maybe you’ll be swayed by the other benefits. The neck is what protects the nerves that run through your body as they travel to and from your brain. Making certain that those nerve impulses are protected is critical to maintaining hand-eye coordination, balance, and basic locomotion.

Tough bodies are needed for competition. The more you know about your own body, the more prepared you’ll be for confrontation and collision. Reducing the chances that you’ll get injured, as well as knowing exactly what’s coming if you’re in a contact sport, gives you a heads up on your opponents. As well as that, your respiratory system and blood circulation is improved, and I don’t think I need to tell you how important that is in the heat of the moment.

In the end, all of this comes down to ensuring you’re healthy, safe, and uninjured. Sports are a part of who we are, and being denied involvement because you didn’t take care of yourself is painful in more ways than physical. Injury is never expected, but it should be planned for.

Take care of your body, and your body will take care of you.

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