Why do so many people suffer from neck problems? And why is it often so difficult to deal with? One explanation is found in the neck always trying to position the head to keep the eyes horizontal. All obliquities and other misalignments in the body undergo a final adjustment by the neck. Especially the SCM-muscle is often working overtime.
You could justify naming the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle the “tenderloin” of the neck, because interesting similarities exist between this muscle and the “real” tenderloin - the psoas major.
These two muscles resemble each other in shape, course and function. Both span many joints, The SCM traverses all the cervical plus the sterno-clavicular joints; the psoas spans the joints of the lumbar spine and hip. Both are postural muscles and precise coordination between them is needed in order to keep the body upright against the force of gravity (Figure 1).
The SCM-muscle originates at the mastoid process behind the ear and the adjacent part of the occipital bone. It twirls around the neck running obliquely down and forward. Half way down it splits into two heads. One inserts at the sternum, while the other finds its insertion on the medial part of the collarbone. Nervous supply is via the 11th cranial nerve – the Accessory nerve.
Analogy of shape
SCM and the psoas are both long, slim muscles placed close to the spinal column. Both attach in one end to a large, wide bone, i.e. the cranium and the pelvis.
According to German reflexology pioneer Hanne Marquardt, bodily structures that share similar morphological traits are also energetically coupled, and this connection can be used in therapy, directly or via foot reflexes. This principle - analogy of shape - lies behind many well known relations, for example the connection between hip and shoulder, etc.
Therefore we have many good reasons to include the psoas when treating problems related to the SCM and vice versa.
The mains cable of the body
The neck comprises the “cable” between the brain and the rest of the body and a plethora of important structures pass through this vital region.
The neck is also the most flexible part of the spine, one reason being that the brain gives a very high priority to keeping the axis of the eyes level. The final step in obtaining this is a compensation done by the neck. No wonder why so many people have neck tensions, often chronically.
Holding these facts together with the limited amount of space available for all the structures passing through the area, makes it easy to understand why the neck is also a very common part of different ailments in other body parts.
The Sternocleidomastoid as an important “joker”
The SCM-muscle is one of the most important, and the most versatile of all neck muscles. Thanks to its unique placement it has the ability to move the cervical spine in many directions including rotation, side bending, flexion and extension. The most important being rotation and side bending, where the two muscles function independently. If both muscles work together the head is bent forward, while the highest cervical spines are extended.
The following table summarises common problems related to a tight SCM- muscle or imbalance between left and right:
influenced by the SCM
|Physiological change||Possible signs and symptoms|
|Trigger points||The trigger points give characteristic radiating pains||Pains around the ear, the forehead or top of the head|
|Lymphatic vessels and glands on the neck||Reduced lymphatic drainage of the head||Chronic sinusitis or middle ear infection|
|The Vagal nerve||Pinching of the nerve||Influence on inner organs|
|The Phrenical nerve||Pinching of the nerve||Changed breathing pattern|
|Proprioceptors||Changes in the balance system||Dizziness |
|Throat||Compression||“Thickness” in the throat Problems with swallowing|
As shown, the SCM-muscle influences quite a number of functions. Knowing about this is important for the reflexologist, because with relatively simple means it is possible to help the body break the vicious circles and get rid of problems causing very annoying symptoms, sometimes mistaken for serious disease.
This article only leaves space to discuss a few neck issues, but in the workshop “Round about: The Neck” we go in depth with analysis and treatment of neck problems and their relations to the whole body.
A case from the practise
A client presents with chronic sinusitis and recurring pains in the forehead. During history taking more symptoms are revealed: Frequently feeling bloated, pains in the lower right abdomen, stiffness in the neck.
Biomechanical tests showed: Tight right psoas and positive trigger points in the right SCM. Furthermore there was marked soreness of the foot reflexes for the ascending colon and ilio-coecal valve.
A possible explanation for this pattern:
A chronic inflammation – maybe in the ilio-coecal area – irritates the right psoas muscle which is closely related to the colon. The psoas tightens and pulls on the pelvis. The oblique pelvis affects the spine as shown in figure 2. The neck compensates to keep the eyes horizontal, this is performed by shortening the right SCM-muscle.
If this pattern persists for some time, the tight SCM could influence its surroundings as shown in the table above. In this case the trigger points caused the headache and the congested lymphatics gave way for infection of the sinuses.
It is even possible that the SCM irritates the Vagal nerve which supplies the colon – and a vicious circle is established.
Obviously, many other factors could set off the compensatory pattern; the psoas muscle could for example be influenced by disease processes in the kidneys or ovaries; an oblique pelvis could arise from problems in the groin, knees, ankles or feet, etc…
Figure 2 The neck compensates for an oblique pelvis
A successful treatment requires first of all that the practitioner is able to recognise the connections and patterns at play and that (s)he knows about various musculo-skeletal testing procedures.
Reflexology should address all the links in the chain of causes. Here we will show a few tips for treatment of the Sternocleidomastoid (Figures 3, 4 and 5).
Figure 3 Foot reflex for the SCM-muscle
Figure 4 Trigger points
Figure 5 Stretching the SCM
More information on the workshop “Round about: The Neck”
Murphy, Donald R., The Sternocleidomastoid Syndrome, Dynamic Chiropractic, April 12, 1991, Volume 09, Issue 08
Ross E. Pope, The Common Compensatory Pattern, Its Origin and Relation to the Postural Model
Travell & Simons, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction, The Trigger Point Manual
Touchpoint, Round about: The Neck, Workshop manual, 2005