≡ Menu

Trigger Points In Neck Cause Dizziness

Trigger Points In Neck Cause Dizziness

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

scm trigger points in neck
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
  • nausea
  • 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 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:

  1. While looking in a mirror turn your head to one side. You will see the sternal branch.
  2. Grasp the muscle with your thumb and fingers curled into a C shape and turn your head back to face the mirror.
  3. Keeping your face looking forward, tilt your head slightly down and to the same side you are massaging.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Trigger points in the neck can cause dizziness

23 comments… add one
  • Hi, great an informative article. I have heard of trigger points but not Sternocledomastoid trigger points and have most of the symptoms mentioned, so this is most useful for me. Thanks

    • Thank you, Lee. It makes me happy that you found this helpful.

  • Excellent article. I have struggled with trigger points for years, and now get so much relief from trigger point therapy from my physiotherapist and from self treatment. I am glad that others are as well, and appreciate you spreading the word. I also write about it here. http://www.mypelvichealth.ca/trigger-point-therapy-pelvic-pain/

  • Thanks for the information. When I’m feeling light headed it always seems to be related to my neck and jaw being extremely tight. Sometimes it lasts for days!

    • Your welcome Tanya. What I wouldn’t give for a day that my neck and shoulders didn’t feel tight. LOL

  • Not to sound selfish or anything but I’m a massage therapy student and I feel like I’ve just hit the jackpot with useful information. Thank you so much.

    • Your welcome, Elli.

  • I also experienced severe occtipital headaches with severe dizziness. My dizziness would come out of no where. I was afraid to drive or go anywhere alone because when the dizziness would hit I couldnt even stand up. Since I have had my surgery it has all gone away.

  • Thank you SO much. I’ve been dealing with dizziness for over a week, thinking it was a knot in my shoulder. Sure enough, I found your article and started massaging those trigger points. My dizziness is gone! Thank you!

    • Hi Jennifer. I am so glad I could help. Thank you for letting me know.

  • I have heard about trigger point massage therapy…however I never tried. I was wondering if such massage would be beneficial in addition to wearing posture corrector for upper neck pain? Thanks!

    • Hi, Linda. Trigger point massage has changed my life. It helps my neck, shoulder, back, and hip pain. I can’t recommend it enough.

      • Hi Sue, Ive been having neck spasms and have not been able to focus clearly for almost two years. Could this help? I feel lost.

        • Hi, Benjamin. It couldn’t hurt to try but I will tell you that if you are doing it yourself there is a learning curve to finding the right spots. For neck pain it also helps to treat the trigger points in the trapezius muscle. I bought a book with illustrations of the trigger points but you can also find quite a few videos on youtube. You will know you have the right spot if the pain radiates to another area when you press on it,

  • Hi Sue. would you recommend a trigger point massage specialist in Denver or its vicinity?

    • Sorry, Sandra, I don’t have any recommedations. I learned a little about trigger points from going to physical therapy and then bought a book so I could treat myself.

  • Hi Sue,

    Thank for insights into trigger points. I was following the comment thread and was wondering is the Physical therapist that you saw was in Salt Lake City?


    • Hi, Kira. My physical therapist is in Illinois.

  • I have a question… I just had a physical therapy appointment yesterday. I live in Germany and the therapist didn’t know the English word for the part of my head she was massaging. She just called it a tiny hole. She said when our neck muscles get stiff, that hole gets even smaller and aggravates the nerves which causes headaches. It was on the right side of my head close to the base of my skull. She pressed on it about 5 minutes and I felt all sorts of sensations – almost the way I feel when I take a migraine pill and it starts to work. However, today that spot is really tender and I actually have a headache and feel a bit dizzy and sometimes light-headed. Do you happen to know the name of the area she could’ve been massaging and whether or not this is a normal reaction? She said it would help relieve headaches but so far, it is having the opposite effect, and I feel pretty awful.

    • Hi, Sheri. No I don’t know the name but I think it is the same spot in which my physical therapist showed me a way to help my headaches and stiff neck. He did not massage or press on the area. Instead he had me lie with a tennis ball under that spot. Most of the time it works but I have had occassions that it caused the pain to increase or radiate to the top of my head.

      I am not sure if the reaction you are having is normal or not. I do know that sometimes physical therapy can increase the pain at times. I would call your therapist or doctor and ask them if your symptoms continue.


Leave a Comment