Forward Head Posture: The SCM and the Trapezius Muscles

Sternocleidomastoid and trapezius      The SCM and Trapezius are both messed up by forward head posture

Today we will look at a classic area of imbalance between muscles at the front and the back of the neck. A muscle at the front of the throat tilts and rotates your head – the sternocleidomastoid muscle, a big rope that connects your head (the mastoid), with the rib cage and shoulder girdle (the sternum and the clavicle).

We have a massive diamond shaped muscle on our back that stabilizes the shoulder blades on the back and aids in assorted movements of the blades—the trapezius, connected at the bases of the head, on either shoulder and much of the thoracic spine. All movements of the shoulders blade involve the trapezius in some way or another and it has some minor involvement with tilting and turning of the head.

The shoulder girdle hangs from these two muscles along with the omohyoid (considering the hyoid bone as part of the head). The shoulder girdle should be suspended above the rib cage. Neither the collar bones or the shoulder blades are meant to be in contact with the ribcage.

Forward head posture throws the relationship of these two muscles into disarray. When the head moves forward the spine goes with it. This pulls the shoulder blades forward as well, not only to they make contact with the upper ribcage, they begin to pull the ribcage forward as well.

The sternocliedomastoid muscle that should be involved in turning and nodding your head, instead is called upon to hold the head up in space. As a result the trapezius becomes largely responsible for turning and nodding the head.

Try to feel the difference of the two actions in your muscles.

  • Let the head fall even more forward than usual and turn and nod the head.
  • See if you feel that the muscular sensation of turning is generated from the back of the neck.
  • Now pull the sides of the neck back, lengthen the ears back and up. What happens when you turn and nod your head here?

Ideally the focus of the effort changes from the back of the neck to the front of the throat where it should come from.

Forward head posture throws off a number of key relationships in the body and for us the main culprit for forward head posture is a tucked pelvis and poor abdominal tone.

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    • Yes, but it is not as simple as this. You have to figure out from what point the problem orignates; otherwise you could compound rather than solve it. For instance, it was pointed out to me by several therapist that my right SCM was short.. It was, but in what direction, to the left or to the right? If I further lengthened it to the right, which I did for a year or more, I deepened my imbalance, because the origin of the imbalance was coming from my abdominals, not my neck. I needed to both rotate my abdominals to the left AND lengthen my SCM muscles to correct my postural issues. Obviously, this went down into my legs as well, I needed to lengthen the right vastus lateralis as my SCM FLEXORS were lengthening (the rotating aspects of the SCM were shortening/contracting as I did this. It is a very complicated pattern, but this is why I write == it is easy; to give “general” advice, but general advice will not help those who most need help, often. Hope my good intent shows itself.

      • Hi Janet, THanks for your insight. It is hard to say everything in a single blog post and I think if you explore my site you will see that I express exactly what you say in many different forms. For me, it doesn’t matter where the imbalance is, the work to change it must start in the pelvis.

      • Hi.

        I came across your blog and really found it helpful. I too have some forward head posture, but I believe mine is from years of “looking down” as a teenager.

        As a teen I had very low self-esteem and confidence from other teens picking on me and just all the typical “teen stuff” that tends to happen at that age. The only thing is I let it get to me and didn’t attack my issues (i.e..the poor posture and looking down all the time) until recently in the past couple years. I’m 42 now, and to tell you the truth I’m not sure where my problem is now. I mean, I’m not sure which muscles are involved in the problem. I want to say the SCM’s only because I figured with all the “looking down” as I walked it must have shortened them maybe?

        I don’t know. I have seen some physical therapists and chiro’s with different opinions from all of them. I was most recently told that my lower cervical vertebrae are “stuck” and don’t want to move as easily as my upper cervicals do. I kinds’ hinge at c3-c4 when I look straight up. I was told all the cervicals should move as a unit, not just uppers. So I need to get movement in my lower cervicals and was also told I need to strengthen my neck flexors.

        When I was told to strengthen my neck flexors though it seems counter-productive. Wouldn’t the neck flexors already be shortened by all the looking down as a teen?? I wasn’t given any exercises to stretch my SCM’s.

        Any suggestions would help.



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