How do I heal an obscure something in my neck?
October 18, 2007 1:09 AM   Subscribe

My sternocleidomastoid hurts -- do I need ice or heat?

It's weird. I hurt my sternocleidomastoid working out. On Monday I was doing weighted dips and at the end of the last set I felt a sort of strain on the right side of my neck. I didn't think much of it. The next day I noticed a slight twinge of something in my neck once or twice but it was not noteworthy. On Wednesday I tried doing regular dips without weight and immediately noticed a pain on that side like something was being overstrained. Later that night I felt some slight twinges in my neck. After poking around with my fingers I found that a string of tissue running from the base of my neck to behind my ear was bulging more on the right than on the left. It's not visible, but I can feel it. It felt like a tendon so I figured it was inflamed and used iboprofene cream. Today (Thursday) I still could feel slight twinges occasionally; I looked up neck anatomy and it seems to be a muscle, the sternocleidomastoid. I can swivel my neck in both directions perfectly fine but when I swivel to the right it feels a little tighter. I also experimented just now with pushups and it seems to feel a little tighter doing that too. It's not a big problem, and I'll avoid doing dips for a few weeks, but in the meantime what do I do: ice? Should I ice my neck? Ibuprofene? Or should I be using heat, like Icy Hot? Also I'm curious: what do dips have to do with this muscle? It was never my intention to work out the side of my neck.
posted by creasy boy to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
Be very, very careful here. I would recommend getting a physiotherapist to look at this, take an oral anti-inflammatory plus topical, and do NOT strain the area in any sense until some professional can give you advice!
( I had an injury here which took 6 months of physio to be pain-free.)
posted by Wilder at 2:49 AM on October 18, 2007

Generally the guideline is ice before heat. Ice when the injury is acute. You're now about 3 days post trauma - cold therapy would have been most helpful earlier. You're now into the range where heat would be more likely to help.

Also, NSAIDs will help reduce the inflammation. Aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen are likely to be beneficial. Some people have stomach problems with NSAIDs; taking the medicine with food may help that. Also, either the ibuprofen cream or the pill - not both.

Why did it happen? Basically, your neck is working to hold up your big, heavy head. When you lift weights it's easily to strain your neck due to overexertion, uncontrolled momentum or even slightly misaligned form. In a perfect world it wouldn't happen, but it does.

Of course, IANAD. I'm just a mid-thirties marathoner who's know her way around an ice pack and a heating pad.
posted by 26.2 at 3:06 AM on October 18, 2007

Response by poster: 26.2, thanks, that sounds good, I have shitloads of ibuprofen, but should I really be counting three days after Monday, when I first overstrained it, or three days as of yesterday, when I really traumatized it?

Wilder: thanks for the answer. My physiotherapist is on vacation. I definitely plan not to stress the area, but that's also why I'm hoping someone can explain to me how dips can effect the sterno-thing, so that I'll know what else to avoid. Like I said, it has never been my intention to work out the side of my neck.
posted by creasy boy at 3:36 AM on October 18, 2007

The rule I was told is that if something is already inflamed, ice is preferred. I was told this in regards to when my lower back acts up... that while it might feel good, adding heat to an area that's already suffering inflammation will not calm down the injury as needed. Only ice will work.

Or something. Yep, IANAD either of course.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:37 AM on October 18, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, will do.
posted by creasy boy at 6:40 AM on October 18, 2007

Best answer: When in doubt, ice. Ice may not do much good if you use it at the wrong time, but heat can cause problems (increased internal swelling, leading to increased damage).

And I notice that whenever I'm doing arm work, I tense up my neck and face something awful. (I have pathetic upper body strength so grimacing comes naturally.) It's possible you were doing that unconsciously. Next time (besides being more careful in general) you can move your head around a little to check that the muscles in that area are relaxed and to remind yourself to keep them that way.
posted by anaelith at 6:45 AM on October 18, 2007

They told me if it's a muscle spasm, use ice, not heat. You'd have to be the judge if it feels like a spasm to you.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 4:36 PM on October 18, 2007

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