What is a Trigger Point?

We have close to 400 muscles in the human body.  Muscles can develop trigger points which can refer pain and cause dysfunction. Symptoms can range from intolerable agonizing pain caused by “active” trigger points, to painless restriction of movement and distortion of posture from “latent” trigger points.

There is not conclusive research on the definition of a trigger point.  However, many characteristics have been observed for decades by researchers all over the world. There are many mechanisms by which we develop trigger points. Some of those mechanisms include poor posture, injury to a muscle, muscle overuse, and repetitive stress overload. Trigger points limit range-of-motion and cause muscle fatigue.

When pressed on, trigger points feel like “knots” or tight bands in the muscle, and are usually tender. Healthy muscles usually do not contain knots or tight bands and are not tender to pressure.

Good news!!! Physical Therapy diminishes trigger points. Physical Therapy addresses trigger points by identifying and treating the primary driver of the trigger point.  This is done through trigger point release, massage, and posture re-education.

What is a Trigger Point?

A trigger point is a specific spot on a tight band of muscle that is hyperirritable. Usually you can feel a nodule or knot in the muscle. When you put pressure on the trigger point, it will feel tender and possibly radiate pain to another area.

Trigger points are most commonly located in the postural muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Trigger points can manifest themselves in tension headaches, ringing in the ear, and jaw pain.

Lack of exercise, sitting at a computer with poor posture, vitamin deficiencies, lack of sleep and micro trauma that occurs with sports and repetitive activities can all contribute to trigger points.

Physical therapists are trained to help inactivate these trigger points. Physical therapists will use modalities such as heat or ice, soft tissue massage, ultrasound and stretching to help reduce pain and tightness at the site of the trigger point.