If you’ve ever experienced pain or discomfort in your neck, you may have heard of sternocleidomastoid trigger points. These trigger points are a common cause of neck pain and can be quite uncomfortable. Understanding what these trigger points are and how they can be treated is important for anyone dealing with neck pain.
The sternocleidomastoid muscle is a large muscle that runs from the base of the skull to the collarbone and sternum. Trigger points can develop in this muscle, causing pain and discomfort in the neck, head, and shoulders. These trigger points can be caused by a variety of factors, including poor posture, stress, and overuse of the muscle.
If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort in your neck, it’s important to understand the symptoms and causes of sternocleidomastoid trigger points. With the right treatment, you can find relief from your pain and get back to your daily activities.
What are Trigger Points?
Explanation of Trigger Points
Trigger points are small, hyperirritable spots located in taut bands of skeletal muscle. They can be palpated as nodules or tight bands under the skin. These points can cause pain and discomfort in the affected muscle, as well as referred pain in other areas of the body. Trigger points can be caused by a variety of factors, including overuse, injury, poor posture, and stress.
Common Locations for Trigger Points, including Sternocleidomastoid Muscles
Trigger points can occur in many muscles throughout the body, but some are more common than others. The sternocleidomastoid muscles, located in the neck, are a common location for trigger points. These muscles are responsible for rotating and flexing the head, and are often overused or strained due to poor posture or repetitive movements.
Other common locations for trigger points include the upper back, shoulders, and hips. These areas are often affected by poor posture and repetitive movements, which can lead to the development of trigger points.
When a trigger point is activated, it can cause referred pain in other areas of the body. For example, a trigger point in the sternocleidomastoid muscle can cause pain in the head, neck, and shoulders. This referred pain can be confusing and difficult to diagnose, as the source of the pain may not be immediately apparent.
In conclusion, trigger points are small, hyperirritable spots located in taut bands of skeletal muscle. They can be caused by a variety of factors, and are often located in common areas such as the sternocleidomastoid muscles. When activated, trigger points can cause pain and discomfort in the affected muscle, as well as referred pain in other areas of the body.
Causes of Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points
Physical causes of sternocleidomastoid (SCM) trigger points include poor posture, repetitive strain, and trauma. Poor posture, such as slouching or keeping your head forward for extended periods, can cause tension in the SCM muscle, leading to trigger points. Repetitive strain from activities like typing or playing an instrument can also cause tension and trigger points in the SCM muscle. Trauma, such as whiplash from a car accident, can also lead to trigger points in the SCM muscle.
Lifestyle causes of SCM trigger points include stress and aging. Stress can cause tension in the SCM muscle, leading to trigger points. Aging can also contribute to trigger points in the SCM muscle, as the muscle can become weaker and less flexible over time.
Medical Conditions that may Contribute
Medical conditions that may contribute to SCM trigger points include cervical spine dysfunction, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and sinusitis. Cervical spine dysfunction, such as a herniated disc, can cause tension in the SCM muscle and lead to trigger points. TMJ can cause tension in the SCM muscle due to the muscle’s attachment to the jaw. Sinusitis can also contribute to SCM trigger points due to the muscle’s attachment to the skull.
Overall, there are many physical, lifestyle, and medical factors that can contribute to SCM trigger points. By understanding these causes, you can take steps to prevent and manage SCM trigger points.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points
If you have sternocleidomastoid trigger points, you may experience a variety of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Headaches, particularly those that are felt in the forehead, temples, or behind the eyes
- Dizziness or vertigo, which can cause a feeling of spinning or unsteadiness
- Nausea or a general feeling of sickness
- Neck stiffness, which can make it difficult to turn your head or move your neck
- Pain in the neck, shoulders, or upper back
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
- Balance problems or difficulty with spatial awareness
It’s important to note that not everyone with sternocleidomastoid trigger points will experience all of these symptoms. Some people may only experience a few, while others may experience several.
If you suspect that you have sternocleidomastoid trigger points, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis. During your appointment, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam to check for signs of trigger points in your neck muscles.
In addition to a physical exam, your doctor may also order imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms. They may also ask you questions about your medical history and any medications you are currently taking.
Once a diagnosis of sternocleidomastoid trigger points has been made, your doctor may recommend a variety of treatment options to help manage your symptoms. These may include massage, physical therapy, medication, or trigger point injections. It’s important to work closely with your healthcare team to determine the best course of treatment for your individual needs.
Treatment Options for Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points
Manual therapy is a hands-on approach to treating sternocleidomastoid trigger points. Physical therapists and massage therapists are trained in manual therapy techniques that can help release tension in the muscle. These techniques may include:
- Palpation: Your therapist will use their hands to feel for knots or tender spots in the muscle.
- Massage: Your therapist will use various massage techniques to apply pressure to the trigger points and help release tension in the muscle.
- Dry needling: Your therapist may use thin needles to stimulate the trigger points and release tension in the muscle.
Exercise and Stretching
Exercise and stretching can also be effective in treating sternocleidomastoid trigger points. Isometric neck exercises can help strengthen the muscle and reduce tension. Stretching can also help release tension in the muscle. Some effective stretches include:
- Chin tucks: Tuck your chin in towards your chest and hold for 5-10 seconds.
- Neck rotations: Slowly rotate your head to the left and hold for 5-10 seconds, then repeat on the right side.
- Side bends: Tilt your head to the left and hold for 5-10 seconds, then repeat on the right side.
Medication can be used to help manage the pain associated with sternocleidomastoid trigger points. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be effective. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants or other medications to help manage the pain.
Self-Care at Home
Self-care at home can also be effective in managing sternocleidomastoid trigger points. Self-massage can help release tension in the muscle. Gently massaging the trigger points with your fingers can be effective. You can also try applying heat or ice to the affected area to help reduce pain and inflammation.
In addition to these treatment options, chiropractic care and manipulation may also be effective in treating sternocleidomastoid trigger points. Your healthcare provider can help you determine which treatment options are best for you.
Prevention of Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points
Preventing sternocleidomastoid trigger points is possible through lifestyle modifications. These modifications include changes to your posture, eyes, and regular exercise. Here are some tips to help prevent sternocleidomastoid trigger points:
- Posture: Poor posture can cause sternocleidomastoid trigger points. To prevent this, make sure to sit and stand up straight with your shoulders back. Avoid sitting or standing in the same position for extended periods.
- Eyes: Straining your eyes for long periods can cause sternocleidomastoid trigger points. Take breaks when working on the computer or reading. Make sure to adjust the height of your computer screen to prevent straining your neck.
- Regular Exercise: Regular exercise can help prevent sternocleidomastoid trigger points. Exercise improves circulation and strengthens your muscles. Make sure to incorporate exercises that focus on your neck and shoulders.
Breathing techniques, meditation, and yoga can also help prevent sternocleidomastoid trigger points. These practices help reduce stress and tension in your body.
By making these lifestyle modifications, you can prevent sternocleidomastoid trigger points and reduce the occurrence of headaches and other symptoms related to poor posture, forward-head posture, and rounded shoulders.
Recap of Main Points
Throughout this article, you have learned about sternocleidomastoid trigger points, which can cause a range of symptoms including neck pain, headaches, and dizziness. These trigger points can be caused by poor posture, stress, or injury, and can be treated through a variety of methods including massage, stretching, and trigger point injections.
You have also learned about the anatomy of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, which is responsible for the movement of the head and neck. Understanding the anatomy of this muscle is important in identifying trigger points and treating them effectively.
If you are experiencing symptoms related to sternocleidomastoid trigger points, it is important to seek the advice of a healthcare professional. Your healthcare provider can help you identify the source of your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment options.
It is also important to practice good posture and stress-management techniques to prevent the development of trigger points in the first place. Regular exercise and stretching can also help keep your neck and shoulder muscles healthy and prevent the development of trigger points.
Advice on Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points
Here are some additional tips for managing sternocleidomastoid trigger points:
- Practice good posture: Sit up straight and avoid slouching to prevent strain on your neck and shoulder muscles.
- Take breaks: If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or using a computer, take frequent breaks to stretch and move around.
- Stretch regularly: Incorporate stretches for your neck and shoulder muscles into your daily routine to help prevent the development of trigger points.
- Seek treatment: If you are experiencing symptoms related to sternocleidomastoid trigger points, seek the advice of a healthcare professional. They can help you identify the source of your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Remember, taking care of your neck and shoulder muscles is important for your overall health and well-being. By practicing good posture, stretching regularly, and seeking appropriate treatment when necessary, you can help prevent the development of sternocleidomastoid trigger points and keep your muscles healthy and pain-free.
When researching sternocleidomastoid trigger points, it is important to consult reliable sources. Here are a few references that you may find helpful:
- The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
This workbook provides a comprehensive overview of trigger points and how to treat them. It includes detailed instructions and illustrations for self-treatment techniques, including those specific to the sternocleidomastoid muscle.
- Simons, D. G., Travell, J. G., & Simons, L. S. (1999). Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual (Vol. 1). Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.
This manual is considered the authoritative text on trigger points. It provides detailed information on the anatomy and physiology of trigger points, as well as treatment techniques. The sternocleidomastoid muscle is covered extensively in this manual.
- Chaitow, L. (2014). Fibromyalgia Syndrome: A Practitioner’s Guide to Treatment (4th ed.). London: Singing Dragon.
While this book is focused on fibromyalgia, it includes valuable information on trigger points and their role in chronic pain. The section on the sternocleidomastoid muscle provides a detailed overview of the muscle’s anatomy and trigger point patterns.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (n.d.). Torticollis Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/all-disorders/torticollis-information-page
This fact sheet from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides an overview of torticollis, a condition that can be caused by sternocleidomastoid trigger points. It includes information on symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.
By consulting these references, you can gain a better understanding of sternocleidomastoid trigger points and how to effectively treat them.