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What Are Trigger Points?

Note: Trigger points should not be confused with acupuncture, acupressure points, or reflexology as they are different systems and treatments.
Trigger Points in muscles.
Medical definition: Trigger points are defined as a hyperirritable spot, usually within a taut band of skeletal muscle or in the muscle’s fascia that is painful on compression and that can give rise to characteristic referred pain, tenderness, and autonomic phenomena. A myofascial trigger point is to be distinguished from cutaneous, ligamentous, periosteal and non- muscular fascial trigger points. Types include active, latent, primary, associated, satellite and secondary.

Non Medical Speak Translation: a trigger point is a small knot usually found within a larger knot or ropey band in the muscle.  The trigger point itself can feel like a small hard pea or like partially cooked macaroni, not as hard and defined as the pea like knot.   When pressed, the trigger point will produce pain.  Sometimes this pain is localized in the trigger point area, other times the pain will be felt in another area of the body.  This migrating pain is called referred pain.  A common client complaint is pain in the shoulder, arm and/or hand. This is often referred pain which can be a symptom of a trigger point(s) in the scalene muscles of the neck. Treating and massage to the shoulder, arm and hand will feel good and may bring temporary relief. However if the trigger points in the scalene muscles are not found, treated and released, the pain will return and over time become worse.

There are many factors in treating pain from trigger points.  Pain can be caused by multiple trigger points which must be treated to eliminate the pain pattern. Trigger points can also cause trigger points in other muscles called satellite trigger points.  Sometimes deactivation of the primary or active trigger point will also deactivate the satellite trigger points, other times the satellite trigger points must be found and manually deactivated.

Trigger points will often need multiple treatments done 2-3 times a day over a period of time to fully deactivate. Once the trigger points are located, a therapist familiar with trigger point therapy can show you methods of self treatment to speed healing.

Trigger point therapy is only one possible component to muscle pain and its treatment and is often incorporated with other manual therapies for maximum benefit. For those suffering with chronic pain that have not been able to find relief via medical or other manual modalities, trigger point therapy should be considered.

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