Sternocleidomastoid pain is felt in one of the largest muscle groups in the neck. The sternocleidomastoid name itself is very descriptive, as it originates at the manubrium of the sternum (sterno-) and the clavicle (cleido-) and inserts at the mastoid process of the temporal bone of the skull (mastoid). The muscle can be seen when moving the neck from side to side.

What are the causes of sternocleidomastoid pain?


A common reason for sternocleidomastoid pain, as it can cause us to use the muscle for extended periods of time. Having your neck in a constant upward position, as seen in high-rise construction workers, ceiling painters, or even swimmers who have to constantly look ahead of them, can lead to the development of sternocleidomastoid pain.

Poor posture:

Excessive strain is caused by poor posture stances like when reading in bed, sleeping with more than one or two pillows, or even long periods of having your head turned to one side. Over time, this can cause the developed of sternocleidomastoid pain.


Described as a sudden jerk or pull of the head backward and then forwards, which commonly occurs during a motor vehicle accident or when struck in the head during a boxing match. This forced movement not only causes strain to the neck bones but also the sternocleidomastoid muscle leading to pain.

Abnormal breathing patterns:

Breathing either very rapidly or very slowly can cause strain on the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Limb length discrepancy:

A condition characterized by having one leg shorter than the other. This can lead to the development of sternocleidomastoid pain,as this imbalance and poor posture can put undue stress on the sternocleidomastoid as a person walks.


Infectious conditions such as sinusitis or the flu can lead to referred pain in the sternocleidomastoid.

Pain patterns of sternocleidomastoid pain

Trigger points in the sternocleidomastoid don’t cause pain in the muscle themselves, but can be tender and a source of painless neck stiffness, causing those affected to keep their heads tilted to one side. Trigger points found on either head of the sternocleidomastoid will instead lead to referred pain, which is pain felt in a part of the body other than its actual source.

Sternal head trigger points can cause deep eye pain, tongue pain when swallowing, and headaches over the eye, behind the ear, and in the top of the head. Pain in some cases may spillover on the side of the face, mimicking trigeminal neuralgia, a condition characterized by the irritation of the trigeminal nerve.

Trigger points in the clavicular head can cause a deep earache or a toothache. Additionally, frontal headaches may also be caused.

Read more here: Sternocleidomastoid pain: Anatomy, causes, treatment, and exercises

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