Trigger points in the neck can cause dizziness and vertigo that many people with fibromyalgia experience. These trigger points can distort your perception and sense of balance, causing you to drop things or stumble and bump into things. Many symptoms involving the head and neck, ears, eyes, nose and throat, can all be due to trigger points in the neck. In this post I will explain: where these trigger points are, what symptoms they cause and how to self-treat them.
What Are Trigger Points
In simple terms, a trigger point is a knot that forms in the muscle and sends pain to other areas of the body. Trigger points cause the muscle to become tighter and shorten. When muscles shorten, they cannot go through the full range of motion, altering the way you move, sit or stand. This leads to strength and flexibility issues, creating more trigger points.
Research suggests that fibromyalgia pain is largely due to myofascial trigger points. Therefore, treatment of trigger points will help manage the pain associated with fibromyalgia.
Trigger Points In Neck That Cause Dizziness
The trigger points in the neck that can cause dizziness form in the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles. The SCM is a large muscle along the front on both sides to the neck. It is made up of two interconnected muscle bands. These muscle bands start out from the mastoid bone behind the ear. One band connects to the breastbone (sternum) and the other connects to the collarbone (clavicle). The sternal band lies on top of the clavicle band.
The primary functions of the SCM muscles are to turn the head from side to side and flex the head downward. The sternocleidomastoid also help maintain a stable position of the head during other body movements. Any position where the neck is held in an awkward position can create trigger points.
Another function of the SCM muscle is to raise the breastbone when you inhale. The muscle can become overworked if you breathe with the chest, rather than with the diaphragm. The SCM also assists with chewing and swallowing.
Symptoms Of Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points
The effects of sternocleidomastoid trigger points can be amazingly widespread. Symptoms created by SCM trigger points include:
- dizziness, vertigo and imbalance
- blurred vision, double vision, excessive tearing, reddening of the eyes, drooping eyelid and twitching of the eye
- hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing, roaring or buzzing in the ears)
- migraine headache, sinus headache
- sinus congestion or sinus drainage
- chronic cough, sore throat
- stiff neck
- cold sweat on the forehead
- continual hay fever or cold symptoms
- trouble swallowing
What Causes Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Points?
Trigger points can be created by postures that keep the SCM contracted to hold the head in position -for example, looking at a computer screen or driving. Keeping your head turned to one side or holding your head back to look up for extended periods of time, are sure to cause problems. Breathing from the chest instead of the belly can also overwork the SCM muscle.
Here is a list of activities that might create SCM trigger points:
- Overhead activities
- Keeping your head turned to one side
- Forward head posture
- Holding phone with shoulder
- Stomach sleeping
- Heavy lifting
- Falls and whiplash
- A short leg or scoliosis or awkward posture
- Stress and muscle tension
- Chronic cough or asthma
- Chest breathing
Sternocleidomastoid Trigger Point Release
SCM trigger points are easily self-treated. The SCM muscle group can contain seven trigger points. The sternal division typically has 3-4 trigger points spaced out along its length, while the clavicle division has 2-3 trigger points.
NEVER massage a pulse. If you pinch the sternocleidomastoid, rather than press it against the side of the neck, you will stay off the arteries.
Follow these steps to release the SCM trigger points:
- While looking in a mirror turn your head to one side. You will see the sternal branch.
- Grasp the muscle with your thumb and fingers curled into a C shape and turn your head back to face the mirror.
- Keeping your face looking forward, tilt your head slightly down and to the same side you are massaging.
- Press only hard enough that it feel comfortable and try to discriminate between the two branches. Each branch is about as big as your index finger. If you pay close attention, you should be able to feel them separately.
- Milk the muscle with short repeated up and down strokes, start in the middle and work your way up to behind your ear and then all the way down to the collarbone.
- If you find a spot that hurts, gently pinch the trigger point. Reduce the pressure until you don’t feel any pain. Once you’re below the pain threshold, slowly increase the pressure over 60-90 seconds.
Do this on both sides, a couple of times a day. Just go easy at first, and work at a pressure level that feels good for you. For a visual demonstration, you can watch the video below.
Trigger point massage is easy to do, once you understand where trigger points are and their referred pain pattern. Trigger point massage is my #1 pain management tool. I recommend The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief if you want to learn how to self-treat your trigger points.