I am sure that many of you have heard of (and experienced)
myofascial trigger points. They are those nasty little
painful spots in muscles that refer pain into other areas,
cause your muscles to feel weak and tired, and generally
make you want to cry!
As a massage therapist, I loooove trigger points, because
they are fun to locate and release. It is so satisfying to
find one hiding within a taut muscle. You can often tell
they are there, because the tissue will give a little jump
when you land right on the trigger point. The skin around
a trigger point can also break out in goosebumps or sweat,
and if you palpate one bang on, the referred pain pattern can
flare up too, like a beacon saying "here I am - come and
get me!" But I am certain that most of you do not share my
Myofascial trigger points are extremely common. One
research article (Drugs. 2004) states that an estimated 44
million Americans suffer from myofascial pain. Pain of
musculoskeletal origin, (which includes trigger point pain)
is reportedly the main cause of disability in the
working-age population, and one of the leading causes of
disability in other age groups as well. (Am Fam Physician.
2003 Jan 1)
Muscle stress due to acute strain, repetitive overuse,
direct chilling and direct trauma seem to be major factors
in development of active trigger points. (South Med J.
You can probably have a trigger point in any muscle (or
tendon, ligament, scar tissue) in the
body, but they do occur more commonly in the muscles of the
neck, shoulder, and pelvic girdle.
Trigger point pain is often misdiagnosed as joint or nerve
pain (South Med J. 1984), due to its referring nature, and
the fact that it is not at the forefront of a physicians
mind when making a quick diagnosis!
Trigger points can cause tension headaches, tinnitus
(ringing in the ears), jaw pain, low back pain, and
torticollis (Am Fam Physician. 2003
Jan 1). They can mimic the pain and symptoms of sciatica,
tennis elbow, arthritis, and even angina. (These are just
a few examples, not a complete list)
Trigger points can be effectively treated my massage
therapy, and you can even treat them yourself by applying
gentle pressure to the trigger point, and then stretching
and/or mobilizing the muscle(s) out after. (You can search
for a trigger point by palpating around the tender area
until you feel a spot that increases your pain. Then back
off your pressure a little and hold until the pain
Home care is important to prevent reoccurrence. Applying
heat to the area following treatment is important. A hot
bath is great!
Simple stretch, range of motion and strengthening exercises for
involved muscles helps to keep them healthy and avoid
reactivation of trigger points. It is also important to
avoid chilling the area following treatment, as cold can
flare them up again!