How Trigger Points Can Torture Your Body

If you have a painful knot or taut band in a particular muscle, you may be suffering from the all-too-common myofascial trigger point. Active trigger points are the consistently painful ones, while latent trigger points are those that only cause pain when you apply pressure to them. Both types can lead to more severe issues down the line, although you can take action to help halt their development or eliminate them.

What They Are

Myofascial trigger points are hypersensitive areas in your body brought about by a variety of direct and indirect causes. Those with direct causes are known as primary trigger points. Direct causes involve some type of trauma in your muscles, tendons or ligaments, often due to overuse, injury, repetitive motions or activity that excessively strains or stretches the same areas.¹ ² ³

Chronic poor posture or holding a certain posture for an extended period can also lead to primary trigger points, as can aging, genetics and an accumulation of micro-traumas over an extended period of time.⁴

Unlike primary trigger points, secondary trigger points develop in areas that have not been subjected to trauma. They can crop up in areas that are subjected to referral pain from issues going on with other bodily structures.¹

What They Do

Suffer from a collection of trigger points and you can end up with a condition known as myofascial pain syndrome (MPS). As one of the most common reasons people seek out manual therapy treatments, MPS typically brings on muscular dysfunction and a deep, intense pain from your muscles and their fascia.⁵ ⁶ The low back, hips, head, neck and shoulders are typically the hardest hit by the pain, since they’re consistently subjected to the pull of gravity and repetitive daily activities.⁷

Both active and latent trigger points can lead to muscle weakness, imbalance as well as decreased, altered and dysfunctional movements in the affected muscle and other muscles that rely on it for proper functioning.¹ ⁶ ⁸ Muscle cramps, tension-type headaches, migraines, dizziness and sensory disturbances are other potential side effects, as are limited joint movement and joint dysfunction.⁹⁻¹³

Those suffering from fibromyalgia seem to have a higher number of trigger points than the general population.¹ Trigger points have also been linked to plantar heel pain, non-specific low back pain and even depression.¹⁴⁻¹⁷

What You Can Do

One of the most effective ways to treat trigger points is with a two-part plan that addresses the trigger points as well as the underlying factors that led to their development. Studies on trigger point and myofascial pain syndrome treatments have found a number of techniques to be effective.

Two of the most helpful are massage therapy and manual therapy, which includes various forms of stretching and ischemic compression.¹ ¹⁸⁻²⁰ Addressing the underlying cause involves changing the detrimental habits that led to trigger point development, such as chronic poor posture.

A comprehensive trigger point treatment program would generally consist of a combination of techniques, such as:

  • Heat therapy through infrared sauna use
  • Clinical orthopedic manual therapy and advanced stretching techniques
  • A form of ischemic compression known as mashing
  • Resistance flexibility and strength training (RFST) which targets the fascia where trigger points can live
  • Pilates and Foundation Training to help correct postural issues contributing to trigger point development
  • Changing any detrimental habits that could be contributing to trigger points is a wise move to avoid new trigger point development. Habits may include things like consistently craning your neck to read in bed, cradling the phone on your shoulder and repetitive movements that constantly strain and overload the same muscles.

REFERENCES

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