SCM muscle pain can affect many areas in the head, face, and neck. Along with pain and stiffness, dizziness can be a symptom of SCM dysfunction.

Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Pain: Signs and Symptoms

  1. Sternal Division – This is the muscle head that connects to the breastbone (sternum).
  • Pain may be felt in these areas:
    • Cheek and jaw
    • Sinuses
    • Back of head at the bottom of the skull
    • Around one eye
    • Top of head
  • May also be associated with these symptoms:
    • Tearing of eye
    • Visual disturbances when viewing parallel lines
    • Chronic “sore throat” when swallowing,
    • Chronic dry cough.
  1. Clavicular Division – This is the muscle head that connects to the collarbone (clavicle).
  • Symptoms may be felt in these areas:
    • Pain across the forehead
    • Frontal sinus-like headache
    • Earache
    • Nausea
    • Dizziness
    • Car-sickness
    • Faulty weight perception of held objects
    • Hearing loss in one ear

Where is the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle?

The Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles are the two big ropey muscles located at the front of the neck. They attach behind the ear (mastoid) and run down the front of the neck where they split into two heads. One head attaches to the collarbone (clavicle) and the other head attaches to the breastbone (sternum) at the base of your throat.

What movements does the Sternocleidomastoid muscle control?

  • Bends the neck and head forward, bringing chin to chest
  • Bends the neck sideways, bringing ear to shoulder
  • Turns the head side to side
  • Stabilizes head (as a “check-rein) when tilting chin upward or extending head backward
  • Assists in chewing and swallowing

Activities that cause pain and symptoms in the sternocleidomastoid:

  • Whiplash injuries
  • Overhead painting
  • Carpentry
  • Wallpapering
  • Front-row movie seats (sitting with head tilted back and forward)
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Shallow chest breathing
  • Working for long periods with head turned to one side (word-processor headache”)
  • Sleeping on your stomach with your head turned  to one side
  • Compression by tight collar or tie.

TWD Recommends: Do You Sleep On Your Stomach?

Stomach sleepers notoriously have problematic SCM muscles and stiff sore necks. The Sweetnight Pillow has adjustable filling so you can adjust your pillow height and sleep with your neck in better alignment with your spine.

SCM Origin, Insertion, Action, Innervation

You use the SCM muscle to bend your head down, push your head forward, and bend your head sideways, (ear to shoulder). The SCM also assists with chewing and swallowing.

Interesting facts about the sternocleidomastoid muscle:

  • The sternocleidomastoid muscle is the muscle most injured in whiplash and as such can cause a number of symptoms and refer pain to many areas of the upper body.
  • The SCM muscle should be examined anytime you have pain in the head or neck area. Often when trigger points are released and the muscle is softened and relaxed, you will find that the pain is considerably reduced or eliminated.
  • If dizziness, nauseous, loss of balance and falling are present and have eluded diagnoses, the clavicular branch of the SCM should be examined for trigger points. Trigger points in the clavicular branch of the SCM can cause problems with balance, vision, and hearing.

Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Pain and Symptoms Can Be Similar To, Contribute To and Be Affected These Medical Diagnosis:

  • Spasmodic torticollis (Wryneck syndrome)
  • Headaches
  • Whiplash
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Motion sickness

Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the sternocleidomastoid muscles:

Satellite trigger points associated with the sternocleidomastoid:

  • Contralateral SCM
  • Scalenes
  • Levator Scapulae
  • Trapezius
  • Splenius Cervicis
  • Sternalis
  • Pectoralis Major

For detailed anatomy information:  Sternocleidomastoid Anatomy

TWD Recommendations To Relieve Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Pain

Cold Therapy Gel For Recent SCM Muscle Injury Including Whiplash

Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel is an excellent pain relieving gel and I recommend it for those who have sudden onset muscle pain or recent injuries.  It is better than warm therapy gels and creams for recent injury muscle pain as it cools the area much like ice and does not promote swelling. A recent study showed that Biofreeze decreased pain 2 times more than ice and the pain relief lasts 9 – 10 longer.  Biofreeze  is recommended for those who have had a recent neck injury or sudden onset pain. Rub Biofreeze into the upper back and shoulders, into the front, side and back of the neck going up to the base of the skull and over behind the ears.  Highly recommended for early treatment of whiplash.

Warm Therapy Gel For SCM Pain

Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel is a pain relieving gel that I use both personally and professionally in my massage therapy practice. Unlike other over the counter heating creams, it provides warmth without burning heat. It can help reduce tightness and pain in the back of the neck and the base of the skull often caused by the sternocleidomastoid muscles. Applying Sombra to the back and sides of the neck, up behind the ears and along the base of the skull will help headache and whiplash pain caused by the sternocleidomastoid muscles.

Stretch and Relax The Sternocleidomastoid Muscle

Soothe-a-ciser: Relief for neck and shoulder pain helps relieve pressure and pain in the neck and shoulders.  10 - 15 minutes laying on the pillow allows muscles in the neck, chest, shoulders and upper back to relax and can relieve or even stop some headaches. It can work especially well for those with tight painful sternocleidomastoid muscles, tight pectorial (chest)  muscles, people who have slumping upper posture or rounded shoulders and for some who suffer from wry neck syndrome.

Self Treatment for Headaches, Sinus, Neck Pain and Whiplash

Do you know that small "knots" and other dysfunction in the sternocleidomastoid muscle can cause pain thoughout the head and neck as well as contribute to vision problems, sinus problems and dizziness?

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief is a book that I recommend to those suffering from headaches migraine, sinus, and whiplash pain. The author Claire Davis explains what trigger points are, what muscles are involved in whiplash, headache, migraine and sinus pain and best of all gives you step by step instructions for self-treatment. This is not a miracle cure or 10 minutes fix-it plan, but if you are willing to dedicate the time the techniques can greatly reduce or eliminate your pain. Once learned, you can apply these techniques to other muscles throughout the body at anytime or anywhere nipping the pain in the bud. This book is a highly recommended resource for anyone suffering from headache, migraine, whiplash and sinus pain.

Leave a Comment