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The Sternocleidomastoid Muscle - a culprit of widespread muscle pain

Just recently, I suffered from throbbing pain on the left side of my neck that extended to the back of my ear and over my cheekbone and forehead. My throat was bothering me too and I felt pressure over the bridge of my nose and congestion, so it felt like my sinuses were getting ready to act up. I suffered these symptoms simultaneously for over a week or so and some days some symptoms were stronger than others. I was not a happy camper to say the least! After some painkillers, muscle rubs and a visit to the doctor's office, I discovered that the culprit of my pain and swelling was the sternocleidomastoid muscle. I never imagined that this muscle could be responsible for an incredible amount of pain over a widespread area. At this point, I just had to share everything I found out about sternocleidomastoid muscle pain in the hope of informing others that may be suffering from the same symptoms but are perplexed as to the cause of such pain.

What is the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle?

The sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) is made up of two interconnected muscle bands found on your neck that allow you to flex and rotate your head. These muscle bands start out from your head just behind the ears and extend down the front sides of the neck. One band connects to the breastbone (sternum) and the other connects to the collarbone (clavicle).

What are the muscle pain symptoms linked to SCM?

Sternocleidomastoid muscle pain affects many areas of the head, neck, and face. Pain is caused when trigger points develop within the muscle bands. These trigger points are like knots or balled up areas that form in the muscle and create considerable amounts of pain. There are various symptoms linked to both of the muscle bands of the SCM:

Symptoms associated with the muscle band that connects to the collarbone (clavicle) include:

  • pain across the forehead (headaches)
  • pain over the cheekbone
  • pain around the eye
  • pain in ear
  • sinus-related symptoms
  • dizziness
  • seasickness or car sickness
  • nausea

Symptoms associated with the muscle band that connects to the breastbone (sternum) include:

  • pain at the top and back of the head
  • pain on the breastbone or chest
  • pain deep in the eye
  • sinus-related symptoms
  • stiffness of the neck
  • pain in the throat and the back of the tongue
  • ringing and/or cracking in the ear
  • eyelid twitching, reddening, tearing and/or blurred vision
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Affected pain areas are designated in red.

Affected pain areas are designated in red.

What about you?

What can cause the pain?

There are certain activities that can cause trigger points in the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Some of these include:

  • positions where the neck is held in an awkward position, such as painting a ceiling or putting up wallpaper
  • sudden head-jerking movements, such as whiplash
  • keeping the head turned to one side for an extensive period of time
  • sinus infections and chronic cough
  • sleeping with too many pillows
  • heavy lifting

SCM Muscle pain treatment options

There are a several ways to treat sternocleidomastoid muscle pain to alleviate trigger point symptoms:

  • Massage therapy - You can do this yourself by gently squeezing the muscle with your thumb and forefinger or you can visit a massage therapist.
  • Seeing a specialist - Some people with severe pain may want to seek the help of a physical therapist or chiropractor. When in doubt, it's always best to seek medical attention.
  • Pain relieving gels - such as Penetrex and other kinds of rubs are available help to ease pain by providing a warming or cooling therapy while the muscle is being massaged.
  • Pain medications - such as ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that can also relieve some of the pain.
  • Ergonomic pillow - Using a specialized pillow that is designed to provide neck support is very therapeutic and will help to relax the SCM muscle.

Pain free

Using naproxen and a pain relieving gel really helped with my sternocleidomastoid muscle pain and eventually I was pain free. I am now considering purchasing an ergonomic pillow such as the Sleep Innovations Cool Contour Memory Pillow to prevent from aggravating the SCM muscle again.

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