Many times when dealing with pain, where we feel the pain is not actually the source of the pain. It can be referred pain from a neighboring muscle. Think you have pain from the sternocleidomastoid muscle? Look deeper; the posterior belly of the digastric muscle refers pain to the upper part of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, the throat and under the chin.

The digastric originates from the mastoid process, deep to the infamous sternocleidomastoid, the splenius capitis and the longissimus capitis. It consists of two fleshy bellies properly called the posterior belly and anterior belly, which are united by an intermediate rounded tendon. This tendon passes through a tendinous pulley attached to the hyoid bone. The two bellies of the digastric muscle have different embryological origins, and are supplied by different cranial nerves. The action of the digastric muscle is to depress the mandible when the hyoid bone is fixed and to retract and elevate the hyoid bone when the mandible is fixed. If you were experiencing pain at the mastoid process, your logical conclusion would be the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Think again: it could be coming from the posterior belly of the digastric muscle. The upper portions of the sternocleidomastoid muscle will be tender to the touch a result of trigger points from the posterior belly of the digastric muscle. The digastric develops these trigger points due to the association of other mastication muscles resulting from issues such as craniomandibular syndrome, mouth breathing due to allergies and sinus issue. The digastric can also cause a deep ear pain described as being in front of or below the ear that is not caused by an ear infection. Other then pain, another indicator the digastric maybe your culprit is difficulty swallowing.

Below is a blurb and image regarding the trigger points of the digastric. “Start with your fingers in the soft part of the flesh underneath the jaw and in front of its corner, just anterior to the upper part of the sternocleidomastoid. From here run your fingers along the front border of the SCM up toward your earlobe, feeling for the very tender spots. Sustained pressure may reproduce the referred pain symptoms. (1)” To help release the posterior belly of the digastric you can use two fingers to press and massage just below the corner of the mandible (where the x is in the above drawing). Press gently inward toward the back of your throat. If you feel your tonsils, stay above them.

Check back on Friday for some therapy ball, self massage, and trigger point therapy tips for your digastric!

1.)  http://www.gustrength.com/muscles:digastric-location-actions-and-trigger-points

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Kristin Gardner

Kristin Epley Gardner is an ocean swimmer and Yogi. Kristin came to Yoga Tune Up® as just another step on her journey out of back pain. After 16 months of working with Pain Management Doctors, Chiropractors, Physical Therapists, Body Works, Pilates Instructors, and Yoga Teachers, she wanted more answers. Yoga Tune Up® gave her the vocabulary needed to effectively communicate and share her journey with her community. Along with her Yoga Tune Up® training, Kristin has her 200 hour YogaWorks Certification, is just about to finish her second 200 hour teacher training with her mentor Chad Hamrin, and has a Mat Level One Pilates Certification through Playa Pilates.

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Kristi Ablett

I have never considered this muscle when treating neck pain and Im definitely going to explore this more on myself as well as one client in particular that Im thinking this may be the missing link!

Rob Long

Hi – I been studying deeply about Internal-Jugular Vein compression that many have including myself. As I review my CT Scan – it appears that the Digastric Muscle could be fibrotic, tense – that along with other muscles Tighten up around the Vein pushing it against the Transverse Process of C1 Vertabrae . . .

QUESTION:
When I do press on that spot as you mentioned, I feel a ROCK like ball – which I’m not sure if it’s a Gland? Or could it be the Belly of the Digastric?

Costa

Thank you for this! I had pain on the posterior belly for 6 months.
Had trouble breathing in the end (go figure)… two hours of pressure on the digastric and my ear popped, my throat cleared and my neck isn’t stiff any more.

Kara Stafford

Thank you for shedding more light on neck pain, how to work through finding which muscle is the culprit, and some tips on alleviating it. I hadn’t realized this was a tight sport for me until I followed your diagram and instructions to release it.

Cathy Tipton

Thank you! I know this little guy is the source of the neck pain that has plagued me for some time, but also it’s a still a symptom and not the cause, which I believe is the jaw joint being out of alignment. I may not be saying that all correctly, but I am the right track.

susan

Thanks Kristin!
Drawing was super helpful in figuring out exactly where the trigger point for the digastric muscle sensitivity is. It’s all one body and thanks for highlighting this muscle, and not just the SCM that gets the limelight!

Heather wiese

I’ve been having problems with my sternocleidomastoid muscles getting tight. The only time I really felt pain was one day, at the start of all this, I woke up and those muscles were sore like you get after a workout. After that I started getting dizzy and pressure in my ears. It’s been going on for over a year! And the only thing I can think is my wisdom teeth on the bottom are causing it. They are impacted somewhat, I think. Would that be near the digastric? Although it’s the only thing my doctor or I could come up,… Read more »

Maxine

Understanding trigger points and referrals definitely informs us as teachers! This is useful in trying to get the bigger picture. To assess if the SCM is the culprit it’s also useful to do a muscle test. In my clinical experience the SCM is chronically bilaterally overused more than the digastric – hence there is still value in addressing this prime mover of neck flexion.

Paula

Wow! Very enlightening, I would guess this mouth breathing would turn into snoring at night. Which leads one to try out some self massage on this area to help release this muscle and create a little more airflow at night? Definitely worth a try!

Shari Williams

Thank you,
I never even considered this little muscle when working w neck pain. great article explaining this little guy and the importance of giving it attention when dealing with mysterious neck pain.

Carolyn

This was really interesting. I suffer from near constant neck pain and tend to clench my jaw. After reading this blog and exploring the diagastric muscle with a little manual self-massage, I feel a huge release in my jaw AND my neck pain has eased! Thank you!!

Lindsey Rockett

Kristin, thank you!!!

Following a thyroid lobectomy, I’ve struggled with discomfort and slightly limited range of motion. I’ve been treating the usual suspects and scar, but have neglected the digastric. I did some experimenting and am already noticing improvement!

Grant

The digastric muscle, I knew about the deep neck flexors and even read up on stuff on the importance of stimulating the hyoid bone but I’ve never heard of this one. The possibility of referred pain due to allergies or chewing is really interesting. It’s a nice microcosm of how global things we do in life can often change us for good or ill in small and surprising ways. I’ll definitely have to get my tune up balls out and try some of the trigger point stimulation!

Jamilah

I’m a trigger point therapist with trouble swallowing and I have never worked on this muscle on myself. Thank you! I just poked around and found a few points that need loving attention.

Véronique

Very interesting. Now, I will think about disgartic muscle when a patien will talk to me of his neck pain. Thank you!

Kim

Thank you for the great article! I forget about the digastric muscle and generally go after the SCM. Excellent reminder to look at all angles.

Trevor Gribble

Could you imagine, teaching a yoga class, and saying the following: “If you’re experiencing any allergies, it could be related to tension on the posterior belly of your digastric muscle which is hidden beneath the sternocledomastoid”?

I mean, I love it. The day that I feel confident enough to connect all of those dots, I will be a very proud instructor. Goes to show how much there is for us all to learn about the tiniest idiosyncracies within our body-mind complexes.

Nina

Great article, I do get neck pain ( especially when sitting behind computer for long times) and difficulty swallowing at times and this and after your massage tips I was amazed about how much relief it gave.

Tatjana Brandl

Hi Christin,
thank you for your article. I do have problems with a blogged nose. So it would be helpuf if I can get some more informations about how to release this digastric muscle. Thanks in advance 🙂 Tatjana

Tanell Liptak

I often experience neck pain on the anterior of my neck. It feels deep and I can experience the discomfort when swallowing too, but it is lower on the neck then where this article refers. I would love to read another article on neck structure if you have any up your sleeve.

Gabi Schaeffer

I have been dealing with allergies since I was a teenager and it’s only getting worse. I have been experiencing significant neck pain recently and am looking for ways to self assess, massage and change my habits. It’s great to know that the posterior digastric belly is affected when mouth breathing due to allergies. I do this when my sinuses are blocked, which is often. This in addition to having poor posture, living with my head protruded. Working on it. I’ll start to self massage this area and see how it goes. Thanks for the information. 🙂

Gabi Schaeffer

I have been struggling with allergies since I was a teenager and it’s only getting worse. Lately I have been experiencing significant neck pain and am looking for ways to self assess, massage and adjust my habits. It is helpful to know that the posterior digastric belly is connected to mouth breathing due to allergies. I practice and teach yoga and often have to breath through my mouth. Additionally, like many people, my head protrudes due to poor posture. I am sure this is all interconnected and can’t wait to adjust and see what results. Thanks!

Tracey Arnold

I get a pain in the neck from time to time. I’ve done shoulder movements or turned my neck and then all of a sudden can’t swallow. It feels like tying to swallow over a large rock. It’s very painful. I was thinking it was the sternocleidomastoid but good to lear about the digastric muscle. Last time the digastric seized up I was abducting my shoulder to laterally flex my arm overhead and when I rotated my head, bang. I recovered by going into child’s pose and carefully rotated from cheek to cheek for about 15 minutes until the muscle… Read more »

Marin

Thank you for this insight into a potential culprit for neck pain. I’ve always associated mine with the SCM – now I’m off to learn more about the digastric and see if massaging it provides any relief.

Thu Maraia

I was intrigued by this artilce, and relate to this, since my 8yr old always having ear pain, and his pediatrician have seen that it isn’t any ear infection or any thing related to his inner ear. I will check this out this article out with him and maybe ‘it can open up some conversation with his allergist and his pediatrician. Thank you for the wonderful diagram.

Molly

So happy you pointed out that when it comes to trigger points, the site of the pain isn’t necessarily the source! Many people have difficulty wrapping their heads around this concept, and you gave a great illustration of how it works.

Brent

I can dig (astric). There are so many head and neck muscles,. It is nice to have one explained clearly. On to the next!

Miriam Rigney

Good to get some information on a muscle that I am not overfamiliar with. I also like the practical application of the trigger point sustained compression and the context that you give release of this muscle. I also like the statement ‘sustained pressure may cause refered pain symptoms’ – good reminder.

Carly

Thanks for this post! I have allergies and sometimes wake up with neck pain. I will try this technique next time!

Denise

I learned (relearned) something new here; although I now believe my neck pain (more on the left) stems from shoulder tightness and malalignment–a revelation today…this may not be your SCM or levator!; the digastric is anther factor to consider given my long history of TMJ…

natalie JP

Referred Pain! That is it right there. I am commonly asked about joint pain and my first question is about the use of the muscles that move the pained joint. Looking deeper is truly a pathway to healing.

Sophie D

I have been feeling increased tension in what I believe is my SCM but this article is the reminder to stay open and explore other possibilities to find the true sources of tension and tools to alleviate them. I need to deepen my understanding of anterior neck muscles to better align in other postures and not add tension.

Stephanie

Great description of the digastric muscle. I have been more aware of the sternocleidomastoid and realize there is still so much that goes into neck pain. I’ll be trying this technique included below and see how that releases the area. Thanks Kristin!

R.E.

There are so many lymphatic pathways right in this area as well, hitting some myofascial real ease techniques will really get some any to your buck fast. Awesome article, I never really even thought about this muscle.

Kevyn

It’s great to find new muscles that are trigger pointy! I now have another friend to work on. Great info and description on how to find this muscle.

Kristin

Thanks again for your positive feedback. Try also taking note of your posture or habits through the day. Or note your stress, how you are sleeping. So many little things add up

Chad

I wonder if I located this muscle earlier while skin rolling lateral to my cervical spine. As I commented in your other neck pain post (healing this is my current passion), I’ve been rolling every possible culprit from occiput to metatarsals. This palpating technique is helping. Thank you!