How To Manage Sternocleidomastoid Pain Swallowing

Sternocleidomastoids or SCM for short is one of the largest, most powerful and complex muscles in the neck because of its complex connections with other parts of the body and its ability to perform many actions.

The sternocleidomastoid is a superficial muscle, which means that it is just below the skin, not deep in the neck. It attaches to the mastoid process, which is part of the bone behind the jaw and under the ear. The muscle extends below the length of the neck and ends where the collarbone and the breast bone connect.

These muscles are named after the bones to which they attach

  • Action; Unilaterally, SCM turns your neck in the same direction, meaning that your right SCM will bring your right ear closer to your right shoulder.
  • Innervation; SCMs are not observed with additional spinal nerves, which emanate from the upper spine and control the motor functions of the SCM and trapezius.
  • Origin; The hind head is attached to the upper part of the sternum manubrium. SCM is also attached to the middle third of the clavicle, your collar bone.
  • Insertion; SCM is attached to the mastoid process of the temporal bone and the lateral part of the nuchal line of the occiput, behind your ear.

The sternocleidomastoid helps with the movement and balance of a reliable Head Source. Muscles appear when a person moves his head from side to side. It also plays a trusted Source role in rotation, orientation, and extension of the head and neck.

On both sides of your neck, each muscle passes beneath the front of your neck and splits to attach to the upper part of your sternum and collarbone. The functions of these long and thick muscles are:

  • turn your head from side to side
  • turning your neck to bring your ear to your shoulder
  • bend your neck forward to bring your chin to your chest
  • assist in breathing and respiration
  • It also helps in chewing and swallowing and strengthening your head when you leave it behind.

Sternocleidomastoid muscle pain causes complaints of dizziness or sudden hearing loss, headache or jaw, even when everything seems normal. If this is the case it may be time to consider the muscular or technical cause of the symptoms.

Many patients with these complaints are referred to a physiotherapist after several months of non-invasive and often negative trials. We have found sternocleidomastoid muscles are often the source of patient complaints.

SCM is responsible for a number of important functions, such as:

  1. side-to-side rotation of head / neck
  2. tilt (left or right) movement of the head / neck
  3. bending head / neck movement
  4. strengthening the head / neck
  5. aid in chewing and swallowing

In addition to performing the essential functions mentioned above, SCM also assists in the protection of vertical bundles of nerves, soft tissues, and lymph nodes of the neck. Although, these strong muscles are rarely prone to damage, stress, or pain.

There are certain stimulus points on both sides of the neck that can sometimes cause pain in the jaw, face, head, or ears. The good news is that SCM pain or complications can be easily treated by a myotherapist and maintained by doing a few basic exercises every day.

Symptoms of sternocleidomastoid pain swallowing

You can feel SCM pain in a few different ways. Your neck, shoulders, or upper back can be very sensitive to touch or pressure. You may experience pain in the sinuses, forehead, or near your eyebrows.

Severe pain, pain may be accompanied by feelings of tightness or pressure. Turning or bending your head can cause severe pain. Serious injuries can include swelling, redness, and bruises. Muscle spasms can also occur.

You may have some of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty raising your head
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • muscle fatigue
  • nausea
  • pain in your jaw, neck, or back of your head
  • pain in ear, cheek or molars
  • shout in your ears
  • tension or migraine headaches
  • unexplained tears
  • Visual disturbances such as blurred vision or blurred vision

Other symptoms include:

Muscle spasms; Muscle spasms are spontaneous muscle strains that come on suddenly and are usually very painful. Dehydration, strenuous exercise in a warm environment.

Adenoids and tonsils; Tonsillitis is an infectious disease with symptoms of bad breath, snoring, congestion, headache, vocal cords, laryngitis, and coughing up blood.

Sore throat; is usually described as pain or discomfort in the throat area. A sore throat can be caused by a bacterial infection, a viral infection, poisoning, irritation, trauma, or an injury to the throat area.

Dystonia; Dystonia complications cause involuntary movements and prolonged muscle spasms, resulting in twisted movements, tremors, and abnormal posture.

Whiplash Injuries; If there is a sudden shock or pull on the head such as during a car accident or in a boxing match during a direct hit on the side of the face it causes stress and pain in the SCM or Sternocleidomastoid muscles.

Limb Length Discrepancy; This is another cause of SCM or Sternocleidomastoid pain as the short part of the foot puts more pressure on the neck muscles during walking which can lead to SCM or Sternocleidomastoid Pain.

Causes of sternocleidomastoid pain swallowing

SCM pain can have several causes that are often related to some form of muscle tension. Stress in another part of your body can cause the pain referred to in your SCM. It can also be complicated and shortened from repetitive activities such as:

  • bend forward to write
  • look down on your phone
  • turn your head from the center while using the computer

Causes of SCM pain can include chronic health conditions, such as asthma, and acute respiratory infections, such as sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, and the flu.

Trauma; A fall, a blow to the neck, or a car accident can injure the neck muscles, causing complications, sprains, and other injuries. One does not have to fall or get a serious injury in order to develop damage to this part of the body, however. The 2014 Trusted Source case report reports sternocleidomastoid rupture following epileptic seizures.

Arthritis; Arthritis in the spinal cord can cause pain known in the sternocleidomastoid. It can also cause a person to change his posture or move his head in a way that increases the risk of injury.

Stress; This is one of the most common causes of SCM Pain or Sternocleidomastoid Pain. Emphasis can be placed on these muscles by performing activities such as looking up for long periods of time.

Other causes of sternocleidomastoid pain include:

  • carrying a heavy object, such as a baby or a backpack, in an unusual way
  • bad posture, for example, when a person stays for many days leaning over a computer or stretching his neck to reach objects in the garden.
  • an improper workplace layout that makes a person hold his neck in an awkward position
  • tension or injury in other muscles of the shoulders, neck, or spine
  • hold the phone between the ear and the shoulder
  • sleeping in an uncomfortable position or in an uncomfortable pillow


The doctor will begin the diagnosis of a sternocleidomastoid wound by asking the person about his symptoms and medical history and his recent activities. It is important to tell the doctor about all the symptoms, even if they do not seem to be related, as injuries to these muscles can cause a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms.

The doctor will then perform a physical examination, asking the individual to perform voluntary movements. These can manifest mildness or stiffness in the muscles due to poor posture, prolonged muscle weakness, or lifting heavy objects.

Visual examination may be necessary for the physician to obtain a detailed view of the muscles and surrounding structures. Ultrasound can help diagnose trauma to the sternocleidomastoid, while X-rays can rule out broken bones.

Treatment of sternocleidomastoid

Various treatments are available for sternocleidomastoid pain, and the type and cause of the injury determine the best option. Possible treatment methods include:

  • Lifestyle changes; When poor posture or heavy lifting causes sternocleidomastoid pain, addressing this issue can prevent the pain from getting worse.
  • Pain management; Relaxation, ice, heat, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce pain. Some people find that changing the temperature with ice helps.
  • Physical therapy; Physical therapy can help a person regain strength in the neck and head. It can also help prevent chronic injuries.
  • Surgery; If other treatments fail, the person may need surgery, especially if the sternocleidomastoid ruptures or tears.
  • Chiropractic care; Therapeutic care is among the alternative therapies that can help reduce pain in some people.

Gentle stretching and exercise can help restore strength to the neck and reduce stiffness. It is important to talk to a doctor or physical therapist before exercising. Some exercises can make a wound worse, especially if one does not use the right techniques.

Other treatment of sternocleidomastoid pain include;

1. Physical Therapy

The physical therapist will evaluate the patient to determine which part of the Sternocleidomastoid muscle is causing the patient’s pain, as well as the sensitivity levels of trigger points. Once a treatment plan is decided our accredited orthopedic specialists will work with patients on specific exercises and stretches designed to increase flexibility and strengthen the Sternocleidomastoid muscles.

Manual manual therapy techniques are used to relax the muscles to help reduce pain levels. Dry needling may also be utilized to give relief to multiple trigger points.

2. Exercise and stretching

Set aside at least 15 minutes a day to do some form of simple stretching or yoga poses. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Cervical flexion; Sit upright in a chair and slowly lower your head forward and then back again. Repeat this movement several times, but strengthen it to avoid additional problems.
  • Cervical side flexion; Sit upright on a chair and slowly bend your head to one side and then the other. Repeat this movement in a controlled manner.
  • Cervical rotation; Sit upright on a chair and rotate your head slowly toward one side and then the other. Repeat this movement several times, turning the head only as appropriate.
  • Chin tucks; Sit upright on a chair and slowly draw your chin in while keeping your head straight. Keep the repetition straight to avoid further strain.

You can also allow your head to rely on some type of support such as a chair, wall, or fixed barriers. If you are doing these exercises as part of a full yoga session, make sure you do them after you get warm up.

3. Heat or cold packs

Hot and cold treatments are an easy option to treat pain at home. This can help reduce swelling, relax muscles, and reduce pain. Apply an ice pack or warm pad on the affected area for a few minutes a few times throughout the day. If you switch between the two, the latter and the cold treatment.

4. Massage

Consider getting a massage as often as once a week. This can help to reduce muscle tension and stress, although the results may be temporary. You can even do a massage of your head, neck, and shoulders for 10 minutes a day. You can also use alternative therapies such as chiropractic acupuncture.

5. Stretching

Stretching the trapezius muscle goes a long way in helping to stretch the SCM or Sternocleidomastoid muscles as well. To do this, the patient needs to sit up and lift his head toward the left side. Now, the patient needs to tap the body slightly to the left. When doing so, he needs to place his right hand under the right hip.

Move the head in a forward position while sitting in this bent position turn the face to the left and pull the left hand towards the right side of the head for further stretching. To straighten the SCM or Sternocleidomastoid muscle, tap the chin after rotating the head on the right side. The opposite sternocleidomastoid muscle will feel stretch.