What is Sternocleidomastoid Muscle and What is its Function?

The function of the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle is to facilitate movement of the neck and also help in flexion of the neck. This muscle is also useful in movement of the head as well the neck and helps with movement of the head. The Sternocleidomastoid Muscle also works in coordination with the scalene muscles and helps in breathing by raising the sternum for the air to come in. The Sternocleidomastoid Muscle stems from the midportion of the collarbone and goes into the mastoid process near the base of the skull and courses the entire length of the neck.

The Sternocleidomastoid Muscle helps in movement of the neck from side to side and bending forward. This muscle is innervated by the cervical plexus nerve which gives the sensory function to the muscle. Blood is supplied to this muscle by the occipital artery and the superior thyroid artery.

There are many ways by which the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle can be strained with the most common being a whiplash injury caused normally by a motor vehicle accident where the neck is jarred. Apart from this, a person can also experience sternocleidomastoid strain or pain by looking at the computer for a long period of time without movement of the neck a well as lifting heavy objects on the shoulders. Hot and cold therapy is the most preferred treatments for sternocleidomastoid strain.

Sternocleidomastoid Strain

Signs and Symptoms of Sternocleidomastoid Strain

Coming to the signs and symptoms pointing to strained Sternocleidomastoid Muscle, it can cause the individual to experience swelling and redness along the region behind the neck and the base of the skull. The individual suffering from sternocleidomastoid strain will find it difficult to move the neck to the right or left or bend the neck. The neck will also feel stiff. A Sternocleidomastoid strain can also cause occipital headaches. Dizziness, blurriness of vision, tinnitus are also some of the symptoms an individual with a strained Sternocleidomastoid Muscle can experience.

What Can Cause Sternocleidomastoid Strain?

Some of the activities that can cause Sternocleidomastoid Strain are:

  • Whiplash injuries
  • Structural defects like a leg length discrepancy which can put pressure on the upper part of the body can cause sternocleidomastoid strain.
  • Looking overhead for prolonged periods of time like when painting can also cause the sternocleidomastoid muscle to get strained.
  • Keeping your head turned to one side.
  • Holding phone with shoulder can cause sternocleidomastoid strain.
  • Stomach sleeping
  • Forward head posture can also cause sternocleidomastoid strain.
  • Activities involving heavy lifting can cause the sternocleidomastoid muscle to get strained.

Some of the medical conditions that can cause Sternocleidomastoid Strain are:

What is the Treatment for Sternocleidomastoid Strain?

Cold Therapy Treatment for Sternocleidomastoid Strain: Utilizing over the counter cooling gel goes a long way in treating a strained sternocleidomastoid muscle. This is mostly used in a fresh injury or strain as it immediately cools the area and prevents swelling from developing in the area. This gel is used by rubbing it around the sternocleidomastoid muscle region.

Warm Therapy Treatment for Sternocleidomastoid Strain: This type of therapy can also be used for treating a strained Sternocleidomastoid Muscle. This gel provides adequate warmth to the injured area without actually burning the area. It works fantastically well in relieving pain and stiffness post an injury to the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle. This gel needs to be put at the neck region and rubbed throughout the area for best results. It should be noted here that warm therapy should never be used when using ice packs or heat packs as this may result in blistering of the skin.

Exercises: Stretching and strengthening exercises are also quite useful when it comes to pain relief due to Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Strain. These exercises are quite easy to do and can be done in spare time either at home or at place of work.

Stretching Exercise for Sternocleidomastoid Strain: In order to get rid of Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Strain stretching the trapezius muscle is quite effective. In order to stretch the trapezius muscle you need to sit down and tilt the head leftward and then bend a little more towards the left side. While bending, place the right hand under the right hip. Maintaining this position, try and move the head forward in the tilted position. To stretch the sternocleidomastoid muscle, tuck the chin after rotating the head towards the right. When you do this, the opposite sternocleidomastoid muscle will feel the stretch.

Strengthening Exercise for Sternocleidomastoid Strain: The best way to heal a strained Sternocleidomastoid Muscle is to strengthen it and this can be done by just pushing the head forwards. You can also try rotating the neck by placing a hand on the jaw for resistance and turning the head on the opposite direction.

Posture Correction: Posture correction is also an important aspect when it comes to getting relief from a strained Sternocleidomastoid Muscle. Posture correction goes a long way in pain relief due to Sternocleidomastoid Muscle Strain. Some of the ways to correct posture are:

Sitting Posture: You need to sit absolutely straight especially when you work and spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, making sure that the head is in an erect posture.

Pressure on the Shoulder: Try and not overload the shoulder or put undue pressure on it. Try and avoid putting your cell phone in between the neck and shoulder when talking as that puts pressure on the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle.

Good Pillows: The best way to sleep is to sleep with the head straight. Make sure that the pillow is not under your shoulders. People who sleep on the sides should keep a pillow in between shoulders and head while sleeping in order to avoid straining the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: May 10, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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