The Sternocleidomastoid(SCM) muscle is a big “juicy” muscle at the front of the neck. Sterno refers to the sternum, or breast bone. Cleido refers to the clavicle, or collar bone. Mastoid is the mastoid process, a knobbly bone behind the ear. These are all the areas that the muscle attaches to. Many of use suffer with pain in the back of the neck, so why are we concentrating on this muscle in the front? The SCM is actually the culprit for an incredible amount of pain but it shows up in lots of different areas.

We are going to cover some of the symptoms created by trigger points in the SCM, referral pain, causes and some treatment techniques to help ease some of the symptoms.

This is a picture of a real SCM. Now can you find yours?

 Here is an anatomical drawing of the SCM.

Symptoms of SCM trigger points are widespread and can often be over looked, just dealing with the symptoms, not the cause.

Common Symptoms include:

  • Tension headache,
  • Muscles sore to touch,
  • Persistent, dry, tickly cough,
  • Partial paralysis of trapezius muscle if the SCM traps the cranial nerve XI.

Sternal Division:

  • Pain refers to top of the head, back of the head, cheek and over the top or behind the eye,
  • Sinus congestion on affected side, chronic sore throat from referred pain rather than infection,
  • Weeping and reddening of the eye, blurred vision, drooping or twitching of the eyelid,
  • One-sided deafness or crackling in the ear.

Clavicular Division:

  • Headaches across the whole forehead,
  • Deep ear pain,
  • Pain in the cheek and molar teeth,
  • Referred eye and sinus symptoms,
  • Dizziness and disturbed balance/vertigo,
  • Seasickness or car sickness,
  • Nausea and loss of appetite.


 Referral Pain Pattern of the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM)

Perpetuating causes of trigger points include:

  • Stress to the SCM, as in lots of overhead activities eg. Painting a ceiling, looking up for long periods of time, swimming strokes, horse riding and handling and wearing a necktie too tight,
  • Poor posture, forward head posture, poor ergonomics, using a computer especially a laptop, reading in bed, sleeping with too many pillows, having the head turned to the side or back for long periods of time,
  • Injuries or sudden jerks to the head eg. Whiplash,
  • Improper breathing and tight pectoralis major muscle,
  • Chronic or acute infections eg. Sinusitis or flu and
  • Structural problems, keeping balance eg. Scoliosis or leg length discrepancy.

Click on the link below to see a good stretch for the SCM, which can help ease trigger point symptoms. Also regular massage treatments with focus on the front line of the body, pectoralis major and minor, SCM, scalenes and other shoulder girdle and neck muscles will help identify and release trigger points and their symptoms.

Obviously this is an overview of some symptoms that maybe caused by trigger points in the SCM but if you are suffering from any of the above symptoms and you are concerned, then you should always have a check up with your doctor.

If you suffer from any of the symptoms mentioned or wish to know more about Trigger Points, you can contact me via my website or email me [email protected].

Till next time, keep happy and healthy.


H&W Massage Therapy



  1. yosi, May 31, 2013:

    if the scm himself is very painful – this mean that there are trigger points or another reason ?

  2. yosi, May 31, 2013:

    yosi, May 31, 2013:
    if the scm himself is very painful – this mean that there are trigger points or another reason ?

  3. Toni, September 2, 2013:

    Hi I have been suffering with all the symptoms listed in the Sternal division and some of the clavicular division. My left scm muscle seems quite inflamed compared to my right.
    I also have pain and tension in the back of my neck, trapezium and shoulder blade. ( lots of knots)
    Which type of treatment can help me? A physio? A remedial massage therapist ? Am currently trying Bowen therapy but it does not seem to be improving, have done this for 2 months.
    Thanking you in advance

  4. jimthong, September 26, 2013:

    A good remedial masseus has helped me a lot. Change your behaviours if they imposition your neck and do whatever stretched and massage you can at home. Good luck. Be ready for sharp and referred pain during massage if your SCM is really bad.

  5. Jen, November 15, 2013:

    I have ringing in ears,tightness in neck and almost a numb feeling in the side of my face. Also my ear feels full most of time. The weekness down top of arm to leg offbalance as well. I’m never thought I would find all the symptoms that is listed here. Had neck injury about 3 years ago and now I can not function somedays. But then somedays I feel great!! Just feel better reading this. My life is kinda on hold when it flares up. Had MRI no tumor I’m sure I would been told if they seen one. What can I do help!! I’m 38 and I can’t stand not being myself

  6. Satya Talwar, December 30, 2013:

    Can trigger point therapy of SCM help in TN pain.
    Thanks For the information

  7. Breanna, February 12, 2014:

    Hi there,
    I have all of these symptoms, and have for some time now. The one that drives me the most crazy is the persistant irritated throat and nasal/ear pain. It starts to make you scared after a while if this is really what is going on, or if there is something more serious?
    I had a bad collarbone and rib break back in approx 7 years ago, and was wondering if this could have contributed to the problem? I know my work has definately contributed, as well as my sleeping habits.
    Last question is, can this problem go on for quite some time as well? I am seeing a chiropractor, and massage therapist, and I do lots of stretches on my own, but I’m just wondering how long I can expect to deal with this?

    Thanks for any help you can offer!!!

  8. Bonnie Simmers, February 20, 2014:

    Satya, I think. Is the TN pain something neurological? What does that stand for? I’m having problems with my SCM. I’ve been diagnosed with cervical dystonia and have taken Botox injections. Thank you.

  9. Gina Turbolski, March 23, 2014:

    Could this muscle play a part with the reacurrent larangal nerve on the leftside of my neck soooo much pain I can not stand it what can I do

  10. Diane, August 27, 2015:

    The above info was very helpful. Thank you!

  11. John, December 2, 2015:

    I have suffered unbelievable cramp like pain in my neck for approx. 2 weeks. I have never experienced pain like this.

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