Trigger Points for Headache Relief – Sternocleidomastoid

The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) is muscle located on the anterior portion of the neck.  It becomes prominently visible when the head is turned to left or right. There are two of these muscles, and they both work to rotate the head, laterally flex the head, and elevate the chin.  The name of the sternocleidomastoid describes the attachments of this muscle to the body.  One end attaches to the mastoid process just behind the ear.  The distal end splits and attaches to both the clavicle and the sternum.

There are 3 trigger points that are located on the sternocleidomastoid. The first is located just underneath the mastoid process. The second is located about halfway between the mastoid and the sternal attachment ends of the muscle. The third is located about one fingerbreadth above the sternal head attachment. Any one of these, or all three may contribute to recurring type of headaches. In fact, if a trigger point is present, pressing them may result in a mild reproduction of the pain.  Pressing these trigger points may also create a familiar headache.  This would be a valid indication that sufferers have found at least one major contributor to their own headaches.

Trigger points in the SCM can contribute to pain in the temporal, occipital, and parietal areas of the skull. Sometimes pain in the jaw or pain behind the eye can be felt when pressing these trigger points.  Often, a headache in the forehead can be due to trigger points in the sternocleidomastoid. Rarely does the SCM exhibit pain at the site of the muscle. Hence, most of the pain is referral pain and felt in other parts of the head and neck area. Other issues that may arise from SCM tightness are:  dizziness, rhinitis, face pain, lacrimation, ptosis, and coryza.

Treatment:  Hold the head in a neutral position or slightly forward to disengage the SCM. It’s easier to massage the left SCM with the right hand and vice-versa. With the thumb on the inside (near trachea) and the fingers on the opposite side of the SCM, pinch the muscle between the fingers.  Grasp and release from the top of the muscle near the ear, all the way down to the sternal and clavicular ends.

Please note that if you are grasping and you feel a pulse, you are on a blood vessel.  Make sure that the thumb and fingers are fairly superficial and not grasping too deeply into the muscle tissue.  The sternocleidomastoid is a superficial muscle and should be palpated with ease.

Massage the SCM for 5-10 minutes twice a day, 3-4 times a week.