What Are Trigger Points and How Are They Effectively Treated?
Exercising too hard, working too long as a rigorous job, or even motor vehicle accidents can produce trigger points in muscles. Trigger points are small, but extremely painful knots that form in muscle fibers which have been stressed in some way, although in the case of an injury to the muscle the trigger point may be of some distance away from the actual damage. Trigger points differ from ordinary muscle pain in several ways:
- Trigger points will generally be found at specific locations in the muscular structure of the body.
- Pain will radiate out from the trigger point to surrounding areas (called reference zones) – this is not a generalized pain.
- Pressure on the trigger point will produce an involuntary ‘twitch’ response.
Trigger points are so named because movement touch will trigger a pain response. The pain that trigger points produce can occur right at the trigger point itself, or can be some distance away as an excited nerve carries the message of pain to another part of the body. A trigger point in the shoulder might cause pain in the arm or lower back. The actual trigger point is often very small, often smaller than a pea – rather astounding for the level of pain that these points can produce.
How Trigger Points Form
Trigger points form as tiny knots of hardened muscle tissue as a result of strain or injury. Muscles which have been damaged in some way tend to become rigid and tight. Trigger point pain is not necessarily confined to the muscles, either, discomfort and pain can spread to the tendons, ligaments, or the fascia (bands or sheaths of tough, connective tissue that serve to hold parts of the body together, or allow for other body parts to move easily over one another).
When a trigger point forms, the compression and knotting of the muscle fibers can pinch nerves, causing a high level of pain. However, because of the tightness of the fibers in the trigger point, the normal supply of blood is also affected, not only increasing discomfort, but also slowing or preventing healing. There are considered to be 3 different kinds of trigger points:
- Active trigger points are painful in themselves, and these also cause pain in nearby areas of muscle or other tissues.
- Satellite trigger points cause pain in other areas of the body, often quite far from the trigger point itself.
- Latent trigger points might be considered ‘stealth’ trigger points as you may be completely unaware of them until they are actually touched.
Treating Trigger Points
The pain from trigger points can affect the body in many ways. The pain from trigger points can cause interference with normal movement and is also associated with the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. Tennis elbow, lower backaches, and headaches can all be the result of untreated trigger points, and these represent some of the most common of pain issues people face today.
Relief from the pain and inconvenience of trigger points is often found at the hands of a skilled massage therapist. Trigger points might be considered to be the orphans of pain management; most physicians know little or nothing about them. However, in-depth knowledge of the muscles is required by all those who will be administering massage therapy, and massage can definitely help to relieve the tightness and pain of trigger points.
- The kneading of a Swedish or deep tissue massage will provide relief directly to a deeply embedded trigger point, loosening it and the adjoining muscles.
- More blood and oxygen will be delivered to the site as circulation improves, assisting with healing.
- Endorphins released during the massage will help to minimize pain and promote a general feeling of relaxation.
Massage can be one of the most effective ways to deal with trigger point pain, and is a treatment option that often produces the best results possible.