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  • Nav Gill BSc. D.C.

    The Neck Pain Blogger

    Helping you Find Solutions for Neck Pain Relief
    Central Florida
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The Silent Source of Neck Discomfort - the Sternocleidomastoid SCM Muscle

Where is the Sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) and what does it do?

The sternocleidomastoid muscle is a large muscle in the neck that plays a crucial role in various head movements. It is named based on its points of origin and insertion. The muscle originates from two locations: the sternum (sterno-), which is the breastbone, and the clavicle (cleido-), which is the collarbone. The muscle then inserts onto the mastoid process of the temporal bone in the skull.

Scm muscle

The primary functions of the sternocleidomastoid muscle include:

  1. Neck Flexion: When both sternocleidomastoid muscles contract together, they flex the neck forward.

  2. Neck Rotation: If only one sternocleidomastoid muscle contracts, it causes ipsilateral (same side) rotation of the head to the opposite side.

  3. Lateral Flexion: When acting unilaterally, the muscle can tilt the head to the same side.

These movements are important for various activities such as turning the head to look around, nodding, and tilting the head. The sternocleidomastoid muscle is easily palpable and visible on the sides of the neck when the head is turned or tilted.

What Can Cause the SCM to Become Irritated?

Common causes of SCM irritation include:

  • Poor Posture: Prolonged periods of poor posture, such as sitting at a desk with the head forward, can strain the SCM.

  • Muscle Strain: Overuse or sudden movements that strain the SCM can lead to irritation.

  • Stress: Emotional stress and tension can contribute to muscle tension, including in the SCM.

  • Trauma: Injury or trauma to the neck area can lead to irritation of the SCM.

What happens when SCM is irritated?

When the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) is irritated or experiences dysfunction, it can lead to a range of symptoms and discomfort. Some common issues associated with SCM irritation include:

  1. Pain: Irritation of the SCM can result in localized pain in the neck, near the muscle itself. This pain may be dull, achy, or sharp and can sometimes radiate to the head or shoulders.

  2. Headaches: Tension and tightness in the SCM can contribute to tension headaches. The muscle's attachment to the mastoid process can also potentially refer pain to the head.

  3. Limited Range of Motion: Dysfunction in the SCM can lead to a reduced range of motion in the neck. This may manifest as difficulty turning the head, tilting it to the side, or experiencing stiffness.

  4. Muscle Stiffness and Tenderness: The SCM may become stiff, and there can be tenderness or trigger points in the muscle. Palpating the muscle may reveal areas of increased sensitivity or tightness.

  5. Dizziness: In some cases, irritation of the SCM may contribute to feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness, especially if the muscle is involved in the regulation of head and neck movements.

How Do You Treat Irritation of the SCM Muscle?

The treatment for sternocleidomastoid (SCM) dysfunction often involves a combination of strategies aimed at relieving muscle tension, improving flexibility, and addressing underlying causes. Here are some common approaches:

  1. Stretching Exercises:

    • Gentle stretching exercises for the neck can help release tension in the SCM. Slow and controlled stretches, such as neck tilts and rotations, can be beneficial. How do you stretch this muscle?
       SCM Stretch
      • Tuck your chin in and downwards.
      • Tilt your head to the left.
      • Place your left hand on the rights side of your head.
      • Apply a downward pressure.
      • Slowly turn your head to the right.
      • Aim to feel a firm stretch in the right Sternocleidomastoid.
      • Hold for 30 seconds.
      • Repeat on other side.
  2. Massage Therapy:

    • Massage can help relax the SCM and reduce muscle tightness. Focus on gentle massage techniques, and consider seeking the help of a professional massage therapist.
  3. Heat or Cold Therapy:

    • Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Experiment with hot packs or cold compresses, and choose the option that feels more soothing.
  4. Posture Correction:

    • Addressing poor posture can prevent ongoing strain on the SCM. Maintain good posture while sitting and standing to reduce unnecessary stress on the neck muscles.
  5. Physical Therapy:

    • A physical therapist can provide specific exercises and techniques to improve neck mobility, strengthen supporting muscles, and promote overall neck health.
  6. Pain Medications:

    • Over-the-counter pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may be used to manage pain and reduce inflammation. However, it's essential to use these medications under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
  7. Stress Management:

    • Since stress can contribute to muscle tension, adopting stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga may be beneficial.
  8. Avoiding Prolonged Neck Strain:

    • Be mindful of activities that may strain the neck, such as extended periods of looking down at a screen. Take breaks and practice neck exercises to prevent prolonged tension.
  9. Trigger Point Release:

    • If there are specific trigger points in the SCM, targeted trigger point release techniques may be employed. This can be done through massage or self-myofascial release using tools like foam rollers or massage balls. Trigger points in scm muscle
  10. Medical Evaluation:

    • If the SCM dysfunction is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation. They can rule out any underlying conditions and recommend appropriate treatment.

How to Stretch the SCM Muscle:

Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions or concerns. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation.

Additional Reading:


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