Sternocleidomastoid Pain

Sternocleidomastoid Pain

Neck tenderness and headaches can be caused by sternocleidomastoid pain. People with sternocleidomastoid pain may notice trigger points along the side or front of the neck that frequently radiates to the ear, eyes, and sinuses.

Sternocleidomastoid Muscle

The sternocleidomastoid is a superficial muscle that occurs under the skin, not deep in the neck. The muscle extends along the length of the neck until it reaches the joining point of the collarbone and breastbone. The sternocleidomastoid muscle has attachments to the sternum (Sterno-), the clavicle (cleido-), and the mastoid process of the temporal bone (mastoid).

The sternocleidomastoid is involved in the control of head movements and balance. Furthermore, it is responsible for the head and neck rotation, inclination, and extension. However, pain and injuries can also cause by sudden head movements or blows to the head. 

Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) Pain:

Sternocleidomastoid muscle pain is usually a sign of sternocleidomastoid syndrome caused by trigger points on the sternocleidomastoid muscle. A trigger point is a tight, tense area of muscle that often feels like a knot has formed, causing intense pain in the affected area. Stress, muscle overuse, poor posture, and muscle inactivity can cause trigger points. A trigger point can lead to muscle pain in the neck, especially in elongated muscles such as the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Causes of SCM:

Several lifestyle factors can play a significant role in developing sternocleidomastoid pain. Sternocleidomastoid pain can be caused by:

  • Carrying a heavy object in an awkward position, such as a child or backpack.
  • Bad posture includes hunching over a computer or straining the neck during long workdays.
  • Muscle tension or injury in the shoulders, neck, or back.
  • Placing your phone between your ear and shoulder.
  • Using an uncomfortable pillow or sleeping in an awkward position.

Other common causes are:

  • Whiplash or falls are common injuries.
  • Activities such as painting, carpentry, or hanging curtains involve overhead work.
  • Poor posture, particularly turning your head to the side.
  • Poor breathing.
  • Lying on your stomach while your head is turned to one side while sleeping.
  • An abrupt movement.
  • Tense chest muscles.
  • Excessively tight collars.

Symptoms of SCM:

SCM pain manifests in several ways. You may be hypersensitive to touch or pressure in your neck, shoulders, or upper back. In some cases, you may experience pain in your sinuses, forehead, or near your eyebrows. A feeling of tightness or pressure may accompany dull and aching pain. Tilting or turning the head can also cause sharp pain. Bruising, swelling, and redness are the symptoms of more severe injuries.

Generally, people with a sternocleidomastoid injury do not experience pain at the injury site. Instead, the pain tends to radiate to other parts of the body.

Common symptoms of SCM are:

  • Soreness, aching, or a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Pain at the front side of the head
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the eyes, jaw, and neck
  • Headache just like a migraine
  • Tingling sensation on the face, head, and neck
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Sinus pain
  • Muscles fatigue
  • Improper vision

SCM Pain Exercises and Stretches:

Exercises and gentle stretches can help restore strength to your neck and reduce stiffness. However, before exercising, you should consult your doctor or physical therapist. Exercises may worsen a person’s injury, especially if they do not use the proper technique.

You must spend at least 15 minutes doing simple stretching or yoga poses daily. Following stretches and exercises can be used: 


  • Neck Rotations: 


  • Stand or sit facing forward.
  • Slowly move your head to the right while inhaling and relaxing your shoulders.
  • Return back to center while breathing out.
  • Inhale and look over the left shoulder.
  • Rotate ten times on each side.
  • Head Tilts: 


  • Face forward while sitting or standing.
  • Taking a deep breath, tilt your right ear toward your shoulder and slowly exhale.
  • Apply gentle pressure with your right hand to your head to deepen the stretch.
  • Hold the position for a few breaths to feel the stretch on your neck side, down to your collarbone.
  • Take a deep breath and return to the starting position.
  • Switch sides.
  • Perform ten tilts on each side.


  • Revolved Triangle:



  • Keep your feet 4-feet apart.
  • Place your right toe forward and left toe out at a slight angle.
  • Facing forward, square your hips and point your right toes in the same direction.
  • Lift your arms parallel to the floor.
  • Slowly bend forward at the hips, and place your one torso parallel with the ground.
  • Put your left hand on your leg, the floor, or a block, wherever you can.
  • Your palm should face away from your body as you extend your right arm straight up.
  • Focus your gaze on your right thumb.
  • Turn your neck down to look at the floor while exhaling.
  • Then, inhale and look up again.
  • Repeat the activity at least ten times on each side.
  • Upward Plank:  


  • Hang your head passively back and down, releasing tension from your neck and shoulders.
  • Increases the length and flexibility of the SCM, chest, and shoulder muscles. 
  • To avoid compressing your spine, ensure that the back of your neck is fully relaxed. You can also allow your head to hang back on a support such as a chair, a wall, or stacked blocks. 
  • Sit down with your legs extended in front of you.
  • Place your hands on the ground alongside your hips.
  • Put your feet beneath your knees and lift your hips.
  • Straighten your legs to deepen the pose.
  • Let your head drop back and open your chest.
  • Stay in the pose for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the activity at least three times.

Other Treatment Options: Some other treatments are available to cure SCM pain. The following are mentioned below:

  • Improved Lifestyle: Usually, sternocleidomastoid pain may be caused by bad posture or a heavy load, making it difficult to move. Resolving these issues can prevent the pain from becoming worse. 
  • Pain Management: Pain can be reduced by rest, ice, heat, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. 
  • Physiotherapy: Physical therapy can strengthen the neck and head, which may also prevent chronic injuries.
  • Surgery: An individual may need surgery if other treatments do not work, especially in the case of a ruptured or torn sternocleidomastoid.
  • Chiropractic Care: Chiropractic care is one of the alternative treatments that may help people with pain.

SCM pain can be treated in many ways. Explore the different options to find out the best suitable medical solution for you. Do not do anything that makes your symptoms worse. Therefore, you must consult your doctor to find out the appropriate treatment.




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