Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dealing with Headaches: The Sternocleidomastoids

You might be intimidated by the name, but you needn’t be. The sternocleidomastoids (pronounced STERNO-CLYDE-OH-MAST-OYDS), or SCMs, are muscles that contribute to headaches, especially migraines. Located on the sides of the neck, they are the fleshy muscles that extend from the ear down to the sternum (breastbone) and clavicle (collarbone). 

There are two branches of the SCMs. Both branches attach just below the ear at the top, but the clavicular branch descends and attaches to the clavicle, while the sternal branch attaches to the sternum. 
Side View

Front View
There are better (and more to scale) drawings in The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook.  See pages 51-55 for more information.  

The sternal branch refers pain to 
  • the top of the head 
  • above the eye  
  • front of the ear 
  • the side of the head 
  • the chin 
  • upper neck 
  • lower neck.  
  • deep eye 
  • tongue (when swallowing) 
  • jaw (can mimic TMJ) 
(Note:  You don't have to have pain in all of these places in order for the SCM to be the problem...)

Trigger points in the sternal branch can also cause 
  • dimmed, blurred, or double vision 
  • red eyes
  • excessive tears
  • runny nose
  • drooping eyelid
  • twitching eye
  • the print to appear as if it is jumping all over the page
And it can mimic trigeminal neuralgia (face pain).

The clavicular branch causes 
  • frontal headache
  • pain in the ear 
  • pain behind the ear. 
It also can refer pain to the opposite side of the forehead, which is kind of unusual; most pain referral is to the same side of the body.

In addition, trigger points in the clavicular branch can cause 
  • deep earache 
  • toothache 
  • dizziness
  • nausea 
  • fainting 
  • unilateral deafness or hearing loss. 

The range of symptoms of the SCMs is really quite incredible. Besides headaches, they can cause: 
  • disturbed weight perception 
  • cold sweat on forehead 
  • excess mucus in sinuses, nose, and throat
  • chronic cough 

The SCMs are fairly easy to work. And you can work them practically anywhere.  

Massage these trigger points between your fingers and your thumb. This is one area where using a tool will not work. If you grab the flesh just below your ear, and begin to squeeze, you may be able to discern the two different branches of SCMs. Trigger points can be found anywhere up and down the two branches of the muscle.  Work your way down both branches.  Be sure to work both sides of your neck.  

Massaging the sternocleidomastoids near the top of the muscle.  
Moving further down.  

Working with the opposite hand.  

Following the sternal branch down.  


  1. I've been dizzy a few times this week, and I couldn't believe how much pain there was when I touched these just now. WOW! Thanks! I'm working on them.
    Got a nice letter from your missionary today, by the way. We are impressed with his letters and enjoy them very much!

  2. I hope you are doing better.

  3. thank you soo much... i had a stabbing pain on the top of my head... the worst pain ive dealt with in a long time... the stabbing headache followed after a day of serious neck pain... I wouldve never figured it out with out google and your list of symptoms.. i just massaged my neck and for the first time in 48 hours i can see straight... Thank you and God blass!

    1. To Anonymous: I'm so glad that it helped!