Definition & Overview

Trigger points are “muscle knots” that can develop at the myofascial layer surrounding skeletal muscles. They are super contracted muscle fibers that cause a significant amount of pain where they form and can cause other muscle knots located elsewhere in the body to produce pain.

The concept of trigger points is yet to be widely accepted by the medical community because there are limited scientific studies to back it up. However, some branches of medicine have embraced the concept of trigger points and have developed methods to relieve symptoms, such as pain. These methods are collectively known as trigger point therapy. Physical therapists, chiropractors, massage workers, and osteopathic practitioners are now practicing this type of therapy.

The basic concept behind trigger point therapy is to provide relief for pain that is unexplainable. It’s no secret that there have been cases where doctors have failed to pinpoint or diagnose the exact cause of pain. Some of those cases may have been misdiagnosed, and the subsequent treatments have failed to alleviate the condition.

It is those unexplained cases where it is thought that trigger points may play a big role in the development of the condition. Trigger point therapy is then used to reduce the symptoms and in many cases, with some degree of success.

Many muscular pains are actually caused by trigger points, which are classified as either active or latent. Active trigger points cause what is called as “referred pain,” which is defined as pain not at the location of the trigger point but at another associated trigger point. Latent trigger points, on the other hand, do not cause pain. Instead, they cause general muscle weakness and limited limb movements.

A trained trigger point therapist is able to identify the affected trigger points and those that are actually causing severe, chronic pain.

Who Should Go & Expected Results

While many massage and wellness centers offer trigger point therapy and while just anybody can easily take advantage of it, the method is highly recommended for patients who have pain as a primary complaint but doctors have failed to provide an accurate diagnosis or effective form of treatment.

Many of these patients have had the condition for years. Some of them have resigned to the thought they’ll “simply need to live with it”.

It’s important to understand that there have not been enough scientific studies to prove or disprove the concept of trigger points. Some people claim that their chronic pain has been relieved through trigger point therapy, but this does not provide a guarantee that the method will work for everybody.

Trigger point therapy affects people in different ways. Some people may notice immediate effects, while it may take three or more sessions for others to achieve limited success. According to well-known trigger point therapists, different success patterns can be caused by the condition of the patient.

If the patient has had chronic pain for many years, it is likely that more than one trigger point has already been affected. Relieving pain at one trigger point would only amplify pain at another trigger point, which is why it can take time for the trigger point therapy to deliver maximum effect.

How Does the Procedure Work?

There are a wide variety of muscles in the body. Scattered throughout the muscles are trigger points. Each trigger point is related to other trigger points, which means that when one trigger point is active, it will cause another trigger point located somewhere else in the body to produce pain.

For instance, trigger points located in the back muscles, also known as the latissimus dorsi, can cause pain in the hands. Therefore, applying pressure (massaging) to the trigger points at the latissimus dorsi will alleviate pain being felt in the hands.

The amount of pressure required will be different from one person to another. Some people only require a slight amount of pressure, while others will need more to achieve the desired results.

Trained professionals usually perform trigger point therapy. However, with a little training, the affected person may also perform the therapy at home. Many books and online resources provide lessons on how to perform “self-help” trigger point therapy procedures. There are also several learning centres that offer courses on this type of therapy.

Possible Complications and Risks

The risk of applying trigger point therapy without undergoing a thorough medical checkup is that you’ll likely misdiagnose the condition and fail to have the underlying problem treated.

It’s imperative that all medical resources and channels be explored before considering trigger point therapy. If doctors fail to provide an accurate diagnosis or treatment for your pain, then it would be a good time to consider trigger point therapy.

Some trigger point therapists may use intravenous medications during therapy. Unless the therapist has a medical degree, it would be best to avoid such forms of treatment. Any medications injected directly into the vein or the trigger point will likely have immediate effects, so you’ll need to make sure that the therapist is a licensed medical professional.

Other complications of trigger point injections include skin infections, needle breakage, hematoma formation, and pneumothorax.

If you intend to practice self-help techniques, you should be aware that these involve applying a certain amount of concentrated pressure at different locations, mostly located at the back. Without proper training, you could risk applying pressure at the wrong location for an extended period. Doing so may result in other complications, such as bruising or nerve damage.

You should also be aware that injecting pain medications directly into a trigger point is not a self-help procedure. Although it may seem like an easy process, injections can cause serious complications, which is why it is best to have a professionally trained therapist analyze your condition and decide if you need injections.

For instance, if you were to decide that an injection would relieve pain at a trigger point located at the upper quadrates lumborum, you’ll need to be aware that this area is very close to the kidneys. If you have not been properly trained in administering injections, there is a possibility that you could damage your kidneys, which would result in kidney failure.


  • American Family Physician
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