When this muscle is really tight and produces "active" trigger points, which are irritable localized spots of exquisite tenderness that refer pain, the SCM can cause moderate symptoms. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, ear pain, postural imbalance, jaw and sinus pain, teeth hypersensitivity, stiff neck, chronic cough, and sore throat.
- Mechanical overload in neck extension or flexion
- Chronic rotation to one side
- Whiplash- sudden and extreme overstretching of muscles in the chest, upper back, and neck, often accompanied by pain, tingling, and/or numbness in the extremities
- Compression of the neck
- Paradoxical breathing- the diaphragm moves opposite to the normal directions of its movements creating health problems. The diaphragm normally moves downwards during inspiration and upwards during expiration, but paradoxical breathing presents the opposite diaphragmatic motion.
- Chronic cough
Neuromuscular therapy is an approach to soft tissue manual therapy in which manual pressure and friction techniques are used to release trigger points. This is a technique employed by massage therapists, physical therapists, among many other healthcare professionals. "Active" trigger points, small contraction knots that typically refer pain, are often caused by injury, muscular strain, and overuse. Trigger points can be so intense that they may elude to misdiagnosis. For example, "chronic jaw pain, toothaches, earaches, sinusitis, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and dizziness may be symptoms of trigger points in the muscles around the jaw, face, head and neck."
According to data and discoveries in the medical field, Travell and Simons' work has shown that trigger points are "often the hidden and unsuspected cause of most headaches, no matter what name they're given: tension headaches, cervicogenic headaches, cluster headaches, vascular headaches, or migraines. Davies, author of The Trigger Point Therapy Handbook, goes on to say, "The paradox about headaches is that the cause is rarely found to be in the parts of the head that actually hurt. Most headaches, in fact, come from trigger points in the jaw, neck, and upper back muscles. This physical distance between cause and effect is why headaches can be so mysterious and hard to deal with."
The SCM has two attaching heads, one to the sternum and one to the clavicle. The sternal head refers pain to cheek, temple, orbit, eye, tongue when swallowing, headaches over the eye, behind the ear, and in the top of the head. These may contribute to temporomandibular (TMJ) joint pain. Additionally, sternal branch trigger points can cause "dimmed, blurred, or double vision, reddening or excessive tearing in the eyes, and runny nose". This branch could also cause a drooping or twitching eyelid from a referred spasm in the orbicularis oculi muscle surrounding the eye orbit. A persistent dry cough or cold, sinus congestion, and phlegm in the throat may be alleviated by working the sternal attachment.
The clavicular head refers pain to the frontal area, and when severe, extends across the forehead to the opposite side. Symptoms are frontal headache, deep earache, and deep toothache in the back molars. The clavicular attachment also causes dizziness, nausea, and the ability to be prone to falling by way of postural imbalance. "When aberrant tensions in the muscle are caused by trigger points, confusing signals are sent to the brain" which affect your spatial orientation. Additionally, "clavicular trigger points can be a case of unilateral deafness or hearing loss on the side where these trigger points exist."
- Acting unilaterally: rotates face to the opposite side and lifts chin (looking over shoulder); aids in side-bending neck to the same side (putting ear to shoulder)
- Acting bilaterally: flexes head and neck (looking at the floor)
- Holding head back to work overhead
- Keeping your head turned to one side for
- Lifting heavy objects
- Holding cell phone to your ear with your shoulder
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Slouching on a couch or chair
- Reading in bed
- Sleeping on stomach
- Shallow breathing
Finando, Donna & Finando, Stephen. Trigger Point Therapy for Myofascial Pain: The Practice of Informed Touch. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2005. Print.
Cauthen, Lisa. "Sternocleidomastoid Muscle: Origin, Insertion & Action." Study.com. Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/sternocleidomastoid-muscle-origin-insertion-action.html
Swatski, Rob. “Sternocleidomastoid - Muscles of the Upper Extremity Visual Atlas, page 26.”
1 August 2010, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rswatski/4850653250/in/photostream/
Gp, Chang. "Lateral view of Bob head." 20 March 2012, https://www.flickr.com/photos/_chang_/8463452373/
Finando, Donna & Finando, Stephen. Sternocleidomastoid pain pattern. 2005. Digital Photograph. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2004, p. 34. Print.
Finando, Donna & Finando, Stephen. Sternocleidomastoid and trigger points. 2005. Digital Photograph. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2004, p. 32. Print.
Wizard of Health. “How to self-treat sternocleidomastoid muscle trigger points -- trigger point release." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 21 August 2015. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/bHRpaBzaLrc