Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points

Sternocleidomastoid trigger points can cause a wide array of symptoms, from neck pain, to facial pain, ear pain, dizziness, and a feeling of constriction.

The reason for these unusual symptoms lies in the location and function of the muscle. Treating these trigger points can cause great relief.

This article will cover:

  • Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Location
  • Finding SCM Trigger Points
  • Trigger Point Treatment
  • Next Steps

The Sternocleidomastoid muscle, which can be shortened to SCM is a complex and totally surprising muscle. The long name is descriptive.

The sternum is your breastbone (hence ‘sterno’.) The ‘cleido’ part of the name is the collarbone. These are the two areas that the muscle inserts into. The ‘mastoid’ is where the other end of the muscle attaches, which is the mastoid bone at the base of your skull.

Sternocleidomastoid Anatomy

The sternocleidomastoid muscle joins arises from the mastoid bone. It then divides into two separate branches. That one runs further forward to the breast bone, (the sternum) and the other runs slightly behind it, attaching into the clavicle (collarbone.)

Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points – Clavicular Branch
Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points – Sternal Branch

Because their attachment is in different places, they do slightly different things. When the sternal branch (the more superficial branch) contracts, it will pull your head down and rotate it to the opposite side of where the muscle is.

When clavicular branch (the deeper branch) contracts, it pulls your head down with no rotation.

Trigger Point Locations

The sternocleidomastoid muscle has a number of trigger points which are as complicated as the actions of the muscle.

The Sternal Branch
The trigger points of the sternal branch refer pain up into the face. It’s a muscle with a free edge, so you can grip it between your finger and thumb.

The free edge of this muscle has trigger points that refer pain up into your face, across the cheek, up into your temple and sometimes along your chin. The pain it produces can be quite extreme. 

Sternocleidomastoid trigger point pain can feel similar to a neuralgia type of pain. This part of the muscle is associated with, autonomic symptoms, which makes it a very unusual muscle.

These means you may also get tearing, or excess salivation, which are two autonomic functions. This makes the pain even more like some kind of neuralgia, or nerve pain.

The pain may just be felt in your face, but the triggers are right down in your neck. It’s one of these things that people don’t think of when you get this kind of pain. 

The muscle can also go into a spasm mode which pulls your head over. This makes the cause becomes more obvious

The Clavicular Branch
This deeper muscle branch causes pain up into the base of your skull. It’s a deep, boring type of pain that can also reach into your ear.

It’s a powerful and hidden cause of earache. Some people with earache had have all the investigations and their ear is normal. Their pain is actually caused by sternocleidomastoid trigger points.

Other Symptoms
SCM trigger points may cause pain which runs into your neck and creates a feeling of constriction. It can feel like pressure across the front of your neck.

It’s can be a very distressing type of pain, so treating these trigger points can give a lot of relief.

Another symptom is a feeling of dizziness, which is part of the autonomic symptoms of triggers in this muscle. And heart palpitations. The reason for this is that the muscle overlies the carotid body. This is an autonomic center that lies in between the division of the carotid artery.

If trigger points make the SCM muscle very tight, it can affect this artery, which in turn has a powerful effect on your autonomic nervous system.

Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Point Treatment

The treatment of these trigger points can be problematic. 

Firstly, this is because these triggers are hidden. The second reason is the muscle’s location over the carotid artery. This is a very sensitive area and needs to be treated gently.

When you examine, lift up the free edge of the muscle. There you will likely find a number of triggers that are exquisitely tender. When you squeeze them, it will feel incredibly uncomfortable.

You may find that you set off dizziness or drop your blood pressure. It’s important to do this examination either lying down or sitting down in a chair with arms, in case you feel like you want to faint.

The sternocleidomastoid is a very delicate muscle to treat. You’ve got to go along very gently to find the triggers. Once you’ve found them, lie down to do the treatment.

Treat the trigger points with ischemic pressure, recognizing that when the trigger is active, it can be super sensitive. You may have to treat a number of times to start quietening the things down.

You have to be very gentle in your treatments, using ischemic pressure with your fingers.

It’s not advisable to use trigger point tools, as this is such a sensitive muscle. It’s also largely a superficial muscle, so you don’t need to go deep to find triggers.

Causes of SCM Trigger Points

What sets off trigger points here is poor posture. This is very common if you have a job like being a car mechanic where you’re lying on your back and have your head pulled forward to look for things.

Of you have a slumped posture, with your chin protruding, this shortens and tightens up your sternocleidomastoid muscle. So an important part of long term pain relief from SCM trigger points is correcting your posture.

If you want to find out more on treating trigger points for pain relief, here’s where to go >>>