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Self Help Stretches and Exercises

Massage Therapy Information and Healthy Living Tips

The sternocleidomastoid is an important neck muscle that performs several functions requiring two different stretches and two different exercises for strengthening. The reason is that the SCM muscle has two parts, the front and the back portion. Also, this one muscle flexes, rotates, extends and flexes the neck to the side laterally. Therefore, more than one stretch and strengthening exercise are necessary to make this muscle flexible and strong.

Neck Retraction
The neck retraction exercise is a stretch that targets the SCM. This stretching exercise involves basically pulling the chin back so the neck aligns neutrally with the spine. The neck retraction is also a posture exercise because you should always center your neck over your shoulders. This exercise combats the postural deficiency known as forward head posture, a common problem whereby people extend their neck forward such as jutting your chin out. This tightens the SCM. To do this stretch, align your chin parallel to the floor and pull your head back. Hold the chin retracted for 20 to 30 seconds.



Side Neck and Rotation Stretch
The side neck and rotation stretch lengthens the SCM muscle in a different manner than the neck retraction. This stretching exercise lengthens the SCM through bending the neck sideways and rotating it away from the side you are stretching. To begin, stand up tall and retract your neck. Then, tilt your head to the left and rotate your chin to point upwards to the right until you feel a stretch on the right side of your neck. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Wall Side Neck Bridge
The wall side neck bridge strengthens the SCM through lateral flexion, or sideways bending. This exercise uses your body weight as resistance and a wall as an object for the SCM to push against. To begin, stand on the left side of a post or wall. Place the left side of your head against the wall. Hold hands behind your back. Then, step your feet to the right slightly so that you can lean diagonally left against the wall with your feet touching and legs straight. This is the starting position. Next, push against the wall to tilt your neck to the left and move your body to the right. Repeat on the other side.

Wall Front Neck Bridge
The wall front neck bridge uses a wall and your body weight to strengthen the SCM through a forward flexion instead of a sideways bending of the neck. To perform this exercise, place a small cushioned mat against a wall at chest height. Do not use a pillow or something that your skin will slip on. Step your feet back with your legs straight and lean forward to place the top of your forehead against the cushion. Hold hands behind your back and straighten your back in line with your legs. Then, extend your chin toward the cushion, which causes your back and hips to move backwards. Your forehead rolls downward and your nose touches the mat.

 

Stretching the quadratus lumborum offers a few benefits. When your quadratus lumborum is tense, this limits muscle actions of the hip and torso. The quadratus lumborum muscle bends the spine to the side and raises the hip, and both movements are restricted by tight muscles. The quadratus lumborum also stabilizes the spine, so tension here contributes to lower back pain. Stretching resolves muscle tension and lack of mobility.

Benefits

A tight QL might not seem like a big deal. But if your QL is tight, that also means it is weak. When one muscle is weak, another one has to pick up the slack. In this case, the gluteus medius muscle in your buttocks works harder to compensate for a weak QL. This works in reverse as well if the gluteus medius is weak. This causes more tension in the QL and possibly in one side. Stretching alleviates tension and strengthening exercises correct the weaknesses.


Wide-leg Seated Quadratus Lumborum Stretch
The wide-leg seated quadratus lumborum stretch elongates the QL through side flexion. As one side shortens to bend sideways, the opposite QL muscle stretches. To perform this exercise, sit on the floor with your legs spread wide like a "V." Lean to the right and place your right forearm next to the inside of your calf on the ground. Grab the inside of your right foot or ankle. Reach overhead and to the right with your left arm. Look up. Stretch the left QL by leaning to the left.

Seated Facilitated Self-Stretch
A facilitated stretch uses the assistance of a tool like a strap or another person so that an isometric contraction can take place in the targeted muscle. This results in a greater stretch after relaxing the contracted muscle. To perform a facilitated stretch for the QL by yourself, sit in a chair and trap on end of a yoga strap, belt or towel under your right foot. Hold the other end in your right hand with the arm straight at your side. Grab the right side of your head above the ear with your left hand, elbow bent. Then, bend to the right and pull the strap taut. Next, attempt to bend back to the left. Since the strap prevents this, your left QL contracts, but nothing moves, resulting in an isometric contraction. Relax and bend farther to the right. Switch sides.

Side-Lying Partner Stretch
Facilitated stretches can also use a partner. For a facilitated partner stretch, lie on your left side on a massage table or next to the edge of a bed. Straighten the right leg and hang it off the edge of the table and reach overhead with your right arm. This lengthens the right QL. Bend the left leg. The partner stands behind you and places his left hand on your lower rib cage and his right hand on your hip, crossing his arms. Then, try to both elevate your right hip and bend your upper body toward the ceiling. Your partner resists your attempted movement, causing an isometric contraction in the right QL. Relax and drop your right leg closer to the floor for a greater stretch. Switch sides.