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Repetitive Strain Injury/Sternocleidomastoid swelling - repetitive strain?



For the past 5 years after leaving my nursing job, I have been working for myself at home, running an online retail business. I work on my laptop for hours on end, and am positioned looking at it with my head turned to the right. Over the past few months I have been having left side neck pain, occipital pains which feel like a migraine, stiffness in the back of my neck - particularly at night when laying on my pillow - and most worryingly for me, I have noticed that the left side of my front neck is bulging outwards/appears swollen. If I turn sideways and look at the contour of my neck, the left side curves out. The right side is fine. The swelling extends almost to the mid line of my neck, to the throat area, almost like a thyroid swelling.

At first when I saw the swelling, my first concern was thyroid, but I have no other thyroid symptoms, and in the past my thyroid has been tested and was fine.I also have been experiencing pain inside and directly beneath my ear which runs down my left SCM to the clavicle.

I would be so grateful for your experienced input here as I am not sure what I am dealing with, and whether my theory that this is repetitive injury stuff is right or not. the swelling in my mid line is confusing me. I have already modified my posture, changed my laptop position, and have been trying some SCM stretches to see if this makes a difference, but the swelling is really quite pronounced and uncomfortable.

Any help is so appreciated!

Hi Dee,

You are right on target thinking that the left sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) is repetitively strained and is causing all the problem.  The SCM originates on your collarbone (clavicle) and sternum, and then it inserts into the bone at the back of your ear (mastoid). The belly of the muscle is the area that you are seeing as swollen.  

The left SCM turns your head to the right, so the previous angle of your computer was definitely the cause of this situation. Also, if you have your head even slightly turned left or right while you are sleeping, your SCM is being held in the contracted position for the entire time. This would also cause the SCM to shorten.

What is happening now is that the muscle is in "knots" from the repetitive strain, and trying to stretch it (which would mean you need to turn to the left, not the right)is only 1/2 of the solution.

The first thing that needs to happen is to release the spasms in the muscle fibers so you can get a good stretch.  The analogy I always use is, if you took a 12" line and tied enough knots in it to make it 11", and then tried to stretch it back to 12" without untying the knots, you can understand what would happen. The knots become tighter and the fibers on either side of the knots will become overstretched.  This is what happens to the muscle fibers. You will accomplish more if you first release the spasms in the muscle.

I suggest you go to and read about repetitive strain injuries. There is a lot of good information on the site, including information about how to release the spasms quickly and easily.

Wishing you well,
    Julie Donnelly

Repetitive Strain Injury

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Julie Donnelly, LMT


I can accept questions that relate to chronic or acute pain caused by muscle spasms and contractions. Repetitive Strain Injury is actually Cumulative Trauma to muscles. Releasing the spasm &/or contraction will relieve the strain that is felt at the insertion point on the bone. I am the co-developer of the unique safe-stretching program "Focused Flexibility Training," which combines easy instruction for self-treating spasms throughout your body with proven yoga stretches. I have recently authored two new books: "The 15 Minute Back Pain Solution," and "The Secret to Your Best Golf Game EVER!


Since 1989 I have been working with endurance athletes and individuals suffering from chronic pain conditions. I have authored seven self-treatment books and three self-treatment DVDs and I have developed the Julstro System for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, Trigger Finger, and other Hand/Wrist pain. I am a national and international presenter at conventions, seminars, and workshops. Principle topics are "Work Shouldn't Hurt," and "The Pain Free Athlete." In 2005 and 2006 I was the massage therapist for ultracyclists competing in the Race Across America (RAAM) 3000+ mile race from San Diego, CA to Atlantic City, NJ. I've taught the Julstro techniques to physical therapists at the Cleveland Clinic, to massage therapists in areas around the USA, and I've taught Julstro self-treatment clinics to dancers at Juilliard School of Performing Arts (NYC),the sprinting team at NC State, and I am working closely with several Olympic-hopeful. We have successfully eliminated the repetitive strain injuries that could keep them out of the Olympic Games, and the best part is they know how to do the self-treatments so they can stay pain-free and flexible.

Triathlete Magazine, Endurance Magazine, multiple national and international trade journals.

Swedish Institute of Allied Health, NY, NY - Initial education in massage therapy Licensed NYS Massage Therapist since 1989. SUNY Empire State College, Saratoga Springs, NY - B.Sc. degree in Interdisciplinary Health Education I was an Associate Professor helping to develop the massage training program for SUNY Rockland Community College

Past/Present Clients
Privacy prevents me from filling in this section without prior consent from my clients. Life Experience: I have been specializing in the treatment of chronic pain and sports injuries since receiving my NY massage license in 1989. A personal bout with carpal tunnel syndrome was the catalyst to my developing a self-treatment that heals the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome quickly and without surgery. My work with endurance athletes was the inspiration to teach people how to self-treat so they could stop pains even during a race or heavy training day. Both of these situations ultimately became the products that are sold on my websites: and I currently treat people in my offices in Sarasota, FL, Cary, NC, or Pearl River, NY

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