Occasionally I will get a message posted on one of my forums, or one of the online repetitive strain injury message boards that I moderate, and it’s important enough that I like to share it with you. I recently had the message below posted and my heart went out to this person because he seems to have been given a big runaround by people who should have been helping him.
The good news is that I truly believe he can be helped 100%, and that he is his own best therapist. You’ll see as you read my response.
I’m not sure if you have ever seen this problem before, but I have been struggling with chronic tension headache for 3.5 years now. The headache never stops. I believe the symptoms first came on as neck pain that only came on when I looked down for prolonged periods of time (like at my desk for work). I figured this was normal “aches and pains” that everyone complains about and my doctor always just told me to get a massage.
Eventually, things seemed to lock up one afternoon when I came down from putting a new roof on a storage shed. I was immediately concerned and long story short, I have tried everything from TMJ treatment to every sort of injection and no one can tell me what is going on. The pain has gradually increased from a minor tension headache, to ear pain, to a very painful band around both sides of my head, pain on the left side of my neck, left upper trap, shoulder blade pain and facial pain.
I have had several MRIs and CTs, all of which come back clear, except for a few bone spurs that are non-invasive on the left and show that I have forward head posturing. I have had some head injuries in the past, all of which I have mentioned to my doctors, but they don’t think that this is related at all.
I went to a chiropractor a couple months ago who noticed what I had been pointing out to doctors for some time and they refused to acknowledge or just ignored altogether, that the left side of my neck was somewhat enlarged or “bulged”. He also noticed that my left shoulder was a good inch or two above my right. He put me on a traction device, which after a few treatments really began to hurt up around my jaw/ear. Unfortunately he wouldn’t listen to me about his treatment causing pain so I had to discontinue with him as well..
All this to say that I think I have convinced myself that I have a problem with my left SCM. The last PT that I went to said that it was “huge” and had a ton of knots. I watched one of your videos and and sounds like my pain from the traction is from the machine possibly pushing on the insertion point of the muscle. My SCM is very sore and I have a very hard time sleeping at night. I also slept on my stomach for years, as my parents made me as a child and then it ended up as a habit that I broke in college by sleeping only on my left side, all of which are horrible practices.
Does this sound like an SCM problem that can be treated or is it too far advanced? What would you recommended?
Here’s my response:
I don’t think it’s too far advanced, it has been my experience that muscles can always be released as long as there is nerve innervation, and all of your many tests prove that the doctors can’t see anything, so we can confidently assume that your nerves are just fine. I agree with you about your SCM, but I think your primary problem is your levator scapulae muscle. The levator scapulae originates on C1-4 and inserts into the top of your shoulder blade. When the Levator scapulae contracts you lift up your shoulder, in fact, the nickname for the levator scapulae is “the shrug muscle.” The fact that your left shoulder is so much higher would explain a lot. The tight levator scapulae is key, but the pulling on your skull also caused other muscles to ultimately go into spasm, causing the ear pain (SCM will also cause ear pain, as will other muscles), and can even be causing sinus problems (although you don’t mention them, they could be caused by the levator scapulae).
I also agree with you that the previous head injuries could be involved, even if all they did was set up the “perfect storm.” This message is a bit complex but read it slowly, visualizing what I’m explaining, and it will make sense to you.
When the levator scapulae is so tight, and then you (for example) put a weight that will pull on your shoulder (ie; carrying a gym bag, or heavy groceries), it pulls your cervical vertebrae out and down (in this case, toward the left). The shift of the bones will do several things, especially: press the vertebrae into your spinal cord right at the base of your brain (causing headaches), compressing the disks in your neck, impinging on the nerves that come out of the vertebrae, and finally, shift C1 and C2 so the bones are pressing into your spinal cord at the very top of your neck.
By any chance, do you already have my book, “Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living?” You have several things going on here and the best news is that I believe you can successfully self-treat each of them. To begin, it’s easy to treat your SCM. If the muscle is too tight for you to grip as shown in my book, then you can use flat fingers and press along the length of the muscle, pushing it directly into your neck. Be sure to pay attention for a pulse under your fingertips as you could be pressing into your carotid artery. I think it would be safer if you did an internet search to see exactly where the artery crosses the sternocleidomastoid muscle so you will avoid it. Also do the treatment for the origination of the SCM which is along the length of your collarbone (clavicle). Do an internet search and take a look at the muscle and you’ll see exactly where it originates and inserts. Treat the middle of the muscle first and then do the origination, ending with treating the insertion point at the base of the mastoid bone (behind your ear).
When you have the book, first do the shoulder treatments and then do all of the neck treatments. At this point, even though they may not have been involved in the beginning, they are now. Also, I’d like to see you treat the anterior scalenes muscle. I only teach that treatment in the Julstro System. If you don’t have the Julstro System then do an internet search so you can see the muscle and at the origination point underneath your collarbone, press the fingerprint (tip) of your pointer finger until you get an electric type of pain (very uncomfortable). Then back off until the discomfort is more annoying than actually painful, and hold it for 30-60 seconds. Then go up the entire muscle, stopping at each painful point. The anterior scalenes is the muscle that is pulling your head forward. You will also benefit by working on your lateral scalenes as I believe they are also involved now, even if they weren’t in the beginning.
If you find yourself passing through Raleigh, NC, give me a call and I’ll be happy to work with you, but I really believe you can self-treat all of this Scott. You’ll know immediately when you’re on a trigger point because it will hurt, and you’ll know exactly how much pressure you can stand (always go to the “hurts so good” level of discomfort, but not more than that).
Keep in touch, I’ll be happy to help you as you go along.
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I hope he does keep in touch. I really want to help him and it will help him to have a support system as he begins to treat each of the muscles that are causing him so much grief.
Wishing you well,