What is a Trigger Point?

Alex Paul

A trigger point is an area of bunched muscle fibers that are localized to a small region. Practitioners of trigger point therapy believe that these points can cause pain both in the area of the trigger as well as in other parts of the body. This is often called referred pain. Generally trigger points are thought to cause pain that cannot be explained through other means. Although many people believe that trigger points are a source of pain, there is little scientific evidence backing it.

Trigger point massage focuses on areas around nerve clusters, where waste products are thought to collect.
Trigger point massage focuses on areas around nerve clusters, where waste products are thought to collect.

A trigger site can be described in a number of different ways. In general, it is an area or point on a muscle that causes pain that can’t be attributed to other problems such as trauma or inflammation. In most cases, a trigger point can be physically felt through manipulation of the muscle. If the trigger point is pressed then it may also induce the same pain that the patient suffers from.

Chiropractors often use the trigger point method.
Chiropractors often use the trigger point method.

Although the trigger site method is used by a large number of different practitioners including massage therapists and chiropractors there is still no formal way of defining it. This is one of the reasons why many medical professionals are hesitant to take the therapy seriously. It has been shown, however, that with training a practitioner is usually able to spot trigger points efficiently.

Trigger point therapy may help alleviate muscle tension and pain.
Trigger point therapy may help alleviate muscle tension and pain.

Myofascial pain syndrome is the main theory behind trigger point therapy. This syndrome occurs when hyperirritable spots affect functions of the central nervous system. The pain that occurs as a result of this is thought to arise because of trigger points.

Manual treatment of tripper points requires gentle pressure and manipulation of the muscles and the underlying connective tissue.
Manual treatment of tripper points requires gentle pressure and manipulation of the muscles and the underlying connective tissue.

There are a number of different methods of treatment for trigger points. Therapies such as ultrasound and dry-needling are commonly used in order to try and “break down” the site. Massage therapy uses manual pressure in order to achieve the same goal. There are also a number of different techniques for self-treating trigger points through self massage. Self treatment usually involves using the elbow or knee to press on the points as the fingers can get tired relatively quickly.

Although in general treating a trigger point in order to try to reduce pain is safe, there are some situations where it may not be advisable. For example, if excess force is used by someone who isn’t trained then it can lead to damage to underlying organs. Some medical professionals also believe that trigger points are actually necessary for healthy function of some joints.

The trigger site is a common method used by massage therapists.
The trigger site is a common method used by massage therapists.

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Discussion Comments

Clairdelune

@sweetPeas - I'm sorry you had to go through all that. I have a friend who had a similar experience with trigger point pain. She thinks it may have started during a time of great stress.

Sometimes, she could hardly move, it hurt so much. She had to put ice on it several times a day. And she was always dead tired. She went to physical therapists and had deep tissue massage.

I think that an awful lot more research needs to be done to find out just exactly what is happening with the muscles and the nerves.

sweetPeas

A trigger point and its accompanying pain is a difficult thing to figure out. A few years ago I experienced myofascial pain and dysfunction. Before I began having pain, I had been in two car accidents. The pain in certain areas was real to me. It's possible that the nerves in the brain were involved. No one knows. Anyway, I tried acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, and prolotherapy injections.

After a lot of rest and treatments, it gradually got better, but is still present some of the time.

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