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Headache at the top of the head? This little-known muscle could be your problem.

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

The sternocleidomastoid muscles might be tight. Learn how to release them.

Anatomy of the muscle

This is a round muscle close to the skin at the front of the neck. It runs from the inside of the clavicle, where it touches the sternum, along the side of the neck attaching to the base of the skull just behind the ear. It tilts and rotates the head to the side. It also assists in forceful inhalation and tilts the bottom of the neck forward and the head backward. To easily locate the muscle, stand in front of a mirror and turn your head to one side.

It becomes tight because of bad posture, such as sitting hunched over and looking at a television or computer screen. This will cause the muscle to shorten. This is often called vulture neck as it looks like how a vulture carries its neck and head.

Since people under stress often breathe forcefully and raise their shoulders, this muscle can be forced to work statically for long periods of time, leading to tension headaches and pain.

Symptoms of Tightness

  • Headache at the top of the head

  • Problems aligning the head straight above the spine

Flexibility Test

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent

  2. Put one of your hands behind your neck on the floor and try to push your neck toward the floor

  3. You should be able to push your neck against your hand

If you do not have the required range of motion or it is tight getting to the end-range, you probably have a tight sternocleidomastoid muscle. Now it is time to release it.

How to release the muscle

  1. In a seated position with your head level facing forward

  2. Take your right hand and put it across your neck to touch the top of the muscle just under the left ear

  3. Apply pressure to the muscle with your index and middle fingers as you slowly move towards the sternum.

  4. At the same time, turn your head to the left and lift your chin as high as you can

  5. It should take you about 2 seconds to complete each repetition

  6. Perform between 8 and 15 repetitions or until a release is felt in the muscle

  7. Switch sides

This release can be done every day.


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1 Comment

Unknown member
Jul 21, 2021

Yikess--"vulture neck"is not very attractive, but, now that you mention it, I see this in many people. I bet lots of folks have these headaches and are unaware of it. This "release" is such an easy and satisfying fix.

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