Sternocleido-what? Part 1 of 4

By Sharon Truelove

The Sternocleidomastoid is a muscle that can be seen and palpated easily. Attached at the sternum, the clavicle and the mastoid process which is behind the ear;  sternocleidomastoid (SCM) allows the head to turn and also helps to maintain stability of the head when the body is in movement.

When trigger points are present in SCM, they may cause are great variety of symptoms that are often misdiagnosed and can be divided into four groups.

Balance problems

Referred pain

Visual disturbances

Systemic problems

Causes of SCM trigger points are often caused by holding postures too long or abnormally or injury. Examples are holding your head back to work (painting a ceiling), holding the head turned to one side (sleeping on your stomach), lower body issues that cause abnormal posture can cause the neck muscles to be overtaxed in an effort to compensate, whiplash, heavy lifting, respiratory problems.

Part  I will discuss balance problems. Trigger points in the clavicular branch of SCM can cause:



Tendency to lurch or fall


These symptoms may last anywhere from a few minutes to days and often physicians may diagnose someone with vertigo or Meniere’s disease.



The myofascia in the clavicular branch of SCM helps with spatial orientation. When the tissues tighten it can send confusing signals to the brain. These trigger points can also cause unilateral deafness because of tiny stapedius and tensor tympani muscles that attach to the tiny middle ear bones; much like winding a guitar string too tight, vibrations are inhibited in the inner ear. Massage of the jaw and SCM  trigger points has been reported to bring back normal hearing.

To massage the clavicular branch of SCM first locate it by turning your head to one side. While looking in a mirror, firmly grasp that cable of muscle that pops ups between your fingers and thumb and knead it. This simple technique has been known immediately cure pain that it may cause. You should not have to spend more than a couple of minutes on each side daily. Don’t massage if you feel a pulse, this is probably the carotid pulse.

Locate your own SCM and see if there are any tender spots. If so, massage them out and report your findings. If you happen to be so lucky as to not have any tender SCM points, find someone who does and help them feel better.

29 thoughts on “Sternocleido-what? Part 1 of 4”

  1. Working on the SCM always scared me a bit, but I just worked on mine really gently and it was helpful.

  2. I was in a car wreck August 2010. Had severe whiplash. I still fill pain in my neck when I drive, but have none of the above symtoms. Do you think this massage whould help me? I still do neck stretchs, but it doesn’t releive the pain.


    1. I’ve had numerous whiplashes. Working SCM really makes a difference for me. As tension in the neck can increases, shallow breathing increases, setting off a vicious pain cycle.

  3. Wow, i never knew my Sternocleidomastoid hurt so bad! I was very sore. I did try to massage it out and it did relieve some of the ache but i think this is going to have to be something i do often. I am a belly sleeper so that is probably why I am so sore. I thankfully did not experience any of the symptoms to the trigger point. I loved this blog and it answered my questions on why my neck hurts all the time. Thanks Sharon!

  4. My sternocleidomastoid is also tender. I sleep on my side with my neck in very awkward positions, and lets not forget sitting in class or at home watching a movie with my head laying on my hand. Not a very good position. But I was able to palpate my scm on my self and was a little scared because of it being right there in the neck, but was able to tell a little bit of a difference. Wasn’t able to do very much because it was more tender then I thought it would be, but I will be doing this at least every other day.

  5. I am in the same position as Melanie, I didn’t realize how sore I was and that’s because I am a belly sleeper also. I will for sure use this exercise frequently from now on. Thanks for the information Sharon.

  6. Very interesting, I didn’t know it could affect hearing and by working on the SCM it can help bring hearing back. Very interesting information.

  7. My SCM was just tight but not all that tender. I rarely sleep on my stomach and when I do I don’t think I’m there for too long since my SCM wasn’t too tender.

  8. I never really knew it existed or thought about it til i started this course. I have now since started doing neck exercises and never knew that it could be sore or tender. Good to know.

  9. I actually massage my SCM often. If I am bored I will just grab it and play with it. Weird I know….but thats probably the reason it feels perfectly fine!

  10. I found mine to be tender on just one side. I did work on it and it feels better. I hope this will keep it from hurting in the mornings. I will try to do it each night prior to going to bed to see if it’ll keep it stretched out.

  11. I love continuing my education by reading these. It is very helpful and gives good visual aids and sparks memories of being in your class. You and Ross were a big part of reshaping my future.

  12. I sleep on my stomach all the time and always just thought that I had a crook in my neck. I tried this and it works really well to loosen up the scm.

  13. I am always stretching my neck or rubbing my SCM, so it is not sore at all. This will be a great technique to remember for future help though. Thanks!

  14. My right SCL was tender, probably because I sleep on my stomach with my head turned. I did this on the long drive home and my neck felt much better while working. Thank You!

  15. I have decided that I FOR SURE need to buy a new pillow. I either sleep on my side or tummy and when I did this exam it is so tender I almost cried! After massage and gripping it a few times it really loosened up and was not radiatin like it was. I am keeping this technique for sure! Thank you Sharon!

  16. Thank you very much for this. I have recently been researching trigger points due to experiencing widespread myofascial pain that seems to match T points more than Fibromyalgia. I also have a weak balance organ and continually working on compensating brain balance signals. During this journey I have come across loads of vestibular disorder sufferers; a significant proportion having neck/back/shoulder/head/jaw issues exasperated by balance issues or created by them. As a very physical worker mine is both I think, which involved years of heavy lifting, shoulders forward, repeat arm and hand movements – plus a good deal on the computer etc. I have shared this where I can, and working on those S’s. Thanks again 🙂

  17. Thanks very much for this. Mine have hurt for ages…lots trigger points in and around there. I have ongoing balance problems. Will let you know if this works or decreases symptoms.

  18. Glad to come across your site tonight. I have been in pain for almost a year and have had all of the symptoms. I have been through phycical therapy, muscle therapy and go to chiro weekly. No one has mentioned this specific muscle to me ( they just said its my neck) and when I pinched this muscle I felt it all the way in my toes on the side affected. Will be doing this exercise daily.