What SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Muscle?

The SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle is one of the largest muscles of the neck. This muscle is divided into two parts. It begins at the skull just behind the ears. From there, it forms two parts of which one attaches to the sternum or the breastbone and the other attaches to the clavicle or the collar bone. SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle is located just underneath the skin and can be visualized when moving the neck completely to one side. Since an individual moves the neck and the shoulders many times during the day hence this muscle is used extensively by the body. This makes it prone to overuse and this results in what we call as SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain. Putting stress to these muscles, having abnormal sitting posture, or sudden movements of the neck or shoulder like in a motor vehicle accident can cause SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain.

SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain

What Causes SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain?

Some of the common causes of SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain are:

Stress: This is one of the most common reasons for SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain. Stress can be put to this muscle by doing activities like looking up for prolonged periods of time. This is mostly seen in people who work in construction and build high rise buildings and have to look up for prolonged periods of time. Painters who need to paint looking upwards are also prone to SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain. Swimming might be an exercise but it also tends to cause strain on the SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid muscle resulting in SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid pain.

Poor Posture: This is yet another cause for SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain. Certain activities that may lead to poor posture are reading in bed, sleeping with more than one or two pillows, having the head turned towards one side for a prolonged period of time leads to excessive strain on the SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid muscle resulting in SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain.

Whiplash Injuries: If there is a sudden jerk or pull to the head such as during a motor vehicle crash or in a boxing bout when being punched straight on the side of the face tends to cause strain and pain of SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Abnormal Breathing Patterns: Many individuals have abnormal breathing patterns in that either they breathe very rapidly or very slowly. This again is a cause for strain and pain of the SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Infections: Certain viral or bacterial infections like sinusitis may also lead to SCM pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain.

Limb Length Discrepancy: This is yet another cause for SCM pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain as the shorter part of the leg puts more pressure on the neck muscle when walking which may lead to SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain.

What are the Pain Patterns of SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain?

When we speak of SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain, it becomes important to understand the pain patterns of it as the SCM muscle is divided into two parts and both parts have different pain patterns.

Pain in the Sternal Part of SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle: The sternal division of the SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid muscle may cause pain to the cheek which can be mistaken for a case of trigeminal neuralgia which is a condition in which a nerve irritation causes intense facial pain. In some cases, there may be pain to the breast bone. It can also cause pain deep in the eye resembling pain from sinusitis. It can cause pain in the tongue when swallowing food.

Pain in Collarbone Part of SCM or Sternocleidomastoid Muscle: The clavicular or collarbone pain pattern causes severe pain in the forehead, in the ear or behind the ear. In some cases, an individual can also feel pain in the face and cheeks as well

How is SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain Treated?

Massage: Coming to treatments for SCM pain or the sternocleidomastoid pain, massage is the best form of treatment. This therapy is simple and can be done by the experienced massage therapist or the patient themselves can do it as well. The patient can use the thumb or the forefinger to squeeze the muscles gently so as to relax the muscles. This can be done through therapy as well. Apart from this, stretching and strengthening the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle may also help treat the SCM pain.

Stretching: Stretching the trapezius muscle goes a long way in helping stretch the SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle as well. In order to do this, the patient needs to sit and tilt the head towards the left side. Now, the patient needs to bend the body slightly to the left side. While doing this, he or she needs to place the right hand under the right hip. Move the head in the forward position while staying in this tilted position turn face to left and pull the left hand to the right side of the head for further stretching. In order to stretch the SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle, tuck the chin after rotating the head to right side. The opposite sternocleidomastoid muscle will feel the stretch.

Strengthening the SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle: Strengthening the SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle also helps with SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain. For this, the patient needs to push the head forwards. The patient can place resistance by applying force on the side of a jaw and then turning the head against this resistance.

Gels for SCM Pain Relief: For the SCM pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain, there are many pain relieving gels available over the counter which can be used. These need to be rubbed at the area of pain for pain relief.

Medications: The patient may also be prescribed NSAIDs in the form of Advil or ibuprofen by the physician for relieving SCM pain or the sternocleidomastoid pain.

How to Prevent SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain?

SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain is something that can be prevented if an individual follows correct pattern of working so that excess load is not put on this muscle. The following things can be done to prevent SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain.

Posture Correction: Stand or sit straight when working. This is an important aspect and is quite useful in decreasing the load on the SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle and hence helps prevent SCM Pain.

Prevent Excess Pressure on Shoulder: Avoid reading books while lying down in bed. Try and avoid holding cell phones or cordless phones over the shoulder while talking on phone as this can also cause SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain. If swimming is causing SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain then try and avoid this for a few days till the pain subsides.

Pillows: Try to avoid using multiple pillows for sleeping and do not put pillows under the shoulder as this may put strain on the SCM or the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle resulting in pain.

Exercises to Relieve SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain

Side Neck Rotation Exercise to Relieve SCM Pain: This is one of the best exercises to get rid of SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain and the easiest one to do. All you need to do is to rotate the neck from one side to the other. This stretches the SCM muscle or the Sternocleidomastoid muscle on the side you turn away from which means that if you rotate the neck towards the right the SCM muscle on the left side will be stretched. This exercise is so easy that it can be done anywhere at home or at work place without any difficulties. To do this exercise to relive SCM pain, you need to position your neck such that the jaw is at 90 degrees to the neck. Now, simply turn to the left until a stretch is felt on the right side of the neck. Maintain this position for about 20 seconds and come back to the starting position. Now, do it on the other side now and again maintain the position for about 20 seconds before coming back to the starting position. Do this about three times a day.

Forward Neck Rotation Exercise for SCM Pain: This exercise is also an effective exercise to relieve SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain. To do this exercise, drop the chin slowly to the chest. Now expand the chest a little bit and retract the shoulders. Now in this position, rotate the head towards the left side first so that the left ear moves towards the shoulder. A stretch will be felt. Maintain this position for about 10 seconds and come back to the starting position. Now, do the same thing for the opposite side for about 10 seconds. Do this about three times a day.

Chin Raise Exercise for SCM Pain: This exercise is also quite beneficial to relieve SCM pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain. In this exercise, instead of dropping down the chin to the chest, you need to rotate the head towards the left side first and then gradually bring the chin up such that you are looking up towards the ceiling.

Maintain this stretch for about 20 seconds and come back to the starting position. Now do this the opposite way for 20 seconds and come back to normal position. Do this about three times a day,

It is always advisable to consult with a physician first before starting an exercise regimen. If the above exercises are done correctly, then it can certainly be effective in relieving the SCM Pain or the Sternocleidomastoid Pain.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: November 28, 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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