Please, Help Yourself


I’ve been in pain all day – does that actually surprise anyone?

Back to the point, the pain in my cheek and the spots above my eyes have been intolerable despite numerous pain killers and soothing eye masks. Then, idiot that I can be when fibro fog enters my brain, I realised that the rehab physio told me about some self-treatment for the area. It’s still not my first thought when it comes to pain treatment but I’m working on it and I find that it can help – it doesn’t take it all away but it soothes it, like tucking it into bed with a blanket and letting it relax.

The muscle that affects this area is called the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). It is a muscle of the neck so-named because it originates on the sternum (sterno) and the clavicle (cleido) and inserts on the mastoid process (mastoid) which is an easily located bony prominence behind the ear. The muscles pass diagonally across the front and side of the neck beginning at the top of the sternum and ending behind the ear. This two-sided muscle is large and ropy, making it the most prominent muscle visible at the front of the neck.

There is rarely pain present in the SCMs themselves but they have the potential to refer a large amount of pain to areas of the head, face, throat, and sternum (see all those red dots and marks in the picture to the left).

Trigger points in the sternal branch of the SCM can cause deep pain around the eyes, headaches behind the ear, at the top of the head, and over the eye (sound familiar?). They may cause pain in the pharynx (throat) and the tongue when swallowing, giving you a “sore throat.” They may also contribute to temporomandibular joint (jaw) pain along with the muscles of mastication.

Dizziness or balance problems, nausea, fainting, lacrimation (excess tear production,) blurred vision, eyelid jerking or droopy eyelid and visual disturbances have all been claimed to be a possible result of trigger points along the SCM.  A host of other systemic symptoms such as cold sweat on the forehead, distorted weight perception, excess mucus in sinuses, nasal cavities and throat, and chronic cough have also been attributed to them.

So what is it that I’ve been told to do?

Self-massage

  • Lay back flat on a cushion.
  • Put some cream on your fingers (not too much as it’s just to make the massage movement easier). It doesn’t really matter what type of cream you use.
  • Find the spot (with the opposite hand) behind your ear where the muscle begins. For example: use your right hand to find the top of the muscle behind your left ear (this means that you’re not putting excess pressure on your left shoulder by scrunching it up).
  • Then follow the muscle down (it runs diagonally) until you get to the bottom of it, at those clavicle bones.
  • Basically, rub your fingers up and down (slowly, and DO NOT use a circular motion) that muscle (at the most 10 times).
  • Use only as much pressure as you can tolerate. If you feel any pain or dizziness, reduce the pressure.
  • Then do the other side.

Initially, it may be extremely painful and may even bring on the referred pain symptoms, such as a headache. But the pain should get better quickly upon subsequent sessions and referred pain symptoms should begin to subside almost immediately. I have been told to do this daily.

Stretching

To stretch and strengthen this muscle, move your head sideways (your ear towards your shoulder) then look at your underarm. Hold that position for 5 seconds (working up to 10 seconds). Do 10 of these on each side (you can alternate or do one side at a time – it doesn’t matter).

I hope some of you find this helpful (and that you can understand my directions).