Sometimes your shoulders hurt because of your neck.

A look at the SCM (Sternocleidomastoid) muscle.

Everything in the body is connected.When people are in pain, the key  is to not think locally, but to think globally. We live in a world where a slowdown in China reverberates economically to the rest of the world. Your body works in the same way- something starts pulling, and a structure somewhere else starts to take strain. Don’t think locally, think globally – That’s true for economics and for anatomy.

With this truth in mind, we need to look at the Sternocleidomastoid muscle. Try to say that a few times in a row. (In fact, say Sternocleidomastoid even once, and you are doing well. Hence the abbreviation, SCM.)

Muscles in balance. When your neck and shoulders are in balance you will be pain free. Shorten the SCM muscle, and the trapezius muscles have to work harder to counteract the force. It’s not long in this state before you pick up problems.

As your SCM pulls forward, you lose balance and your head begins to tilt forward. The muscles at the back of the neck have to pull extra hard to balance things out. Leave them in this tug of war state, and before long the muscle gets ropy, develops trigger points and gets sore.
scm neck forward

In fact, while you may have pain in your shoulders, the culprit might be in the front of your neck. Leave your neck in a forward leaning position for too long, and you start to grow a hump at the base of your neck. (Rather flatteringly called a dowager’s hump) This is your body’s way of compensating and building a better angled point to reset the neck.

So, be aware of therapists who only concentrate on your shoulders. They might be missing the cause of your problem.

The SCM is connected to the inner section of your clavicle or collar bone. It then runs at a 45 degree angle to the mastoid process. Run a finger up the outside of your jaw to your ear. As you bump into your ear, you will feel a rounded bone just behind the ear. That is the mastoid process.  The muscles are used individually to rotate the head, and jointly to pull the head forward. From the mastoid process you have a long fascial band that wraps around the head to the other mastoid process. Once again, everything is connected. The mastoid process can inflame due to too much pulling from the SCM.

People who are prone to tight SCM’s include:
– People who sit for long periods of time every day.
– Swimmers. The whole area works really hard to enable breathing while in the water.
– Cyclists. You need to tortoise your neck out when cycling, that places unusual strain on the neck.
– People who tend to roll up like a ball when they sleep.
smc posture habit

Treatments that make a difference:
– educating re the importance of posture.
massage and myofascial release.
– kinesio tape.
– strengthening specific muscles.
– a bike setup and encouraging cyclist to regularly change position while on the bike. (Sit, lean forward, stand)

Give me a call if you feel I can help.


Mike Roscoe.
Mike Roscoe


About sbrsport

SBR Sport specialises in Swimming, Biking and Running. On the medical side we are able to do intensive bike setups, leg assessments and soft tissue release. - and/or facebook -
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