What Are Trigger Points?
Also known as muscle knots, trigger points are hyper-irritable points in taut bands of skeletal muscle. It is thought that a small number of muscle fibers contract abnormally within a larger muscle. This compresses the local blood supply of that area, which then becomes extra sensitive. When pressed, these points are painful and often send pain to the muscles around them; sometimes they even refer pain to a distant location. Trigger points can make everyday activities painful, affecting your workouts, hobbies and even when you rest. When left untreated, trigger points may contribute to pain in many areas, particularly the neck, shoulders, joints, and lower back.
What Causes Trigger Points?
From injuries and trauma to prolonged muscle contractions and excessive loads, there are many factors that may cause trigger points. Inflammation, stress, nutritional deficiencies and prolonged sitting may also contribute to the formation of these painful areas. Muscular overload is generally thought to be the primary cause of trigger points. For this reason, you might notice trigger points after starting a new activity or training program.
Signs and Symptoms
These localised muscle cramps often go undiagnosed as sometimes the pain is felt in a different location to the site of the trigger point. These areas are tender to touch and cause predictable patterns of referred pain.
They feel like hard lumps in your muscles, causing stiffness, heavy or dull aching, sharp pain, and general discomfort. They often cause the length of the affected muscles to shorten and for this reason trigger points may worsen the symptoms of arthritis, bursitis, tennis elbow, tendonitis, and ligament injury.
Specific massage techniques and dry needling may help relieve pain and discomfort. Other common treatment options include trigger point injections, electrostimulation, mechanical vibration, and stretching exercises. These treatments can help to deactivate trigger points, however to prevent trigger points from forming again the causative factors need to be identified.
If you have trigger points, slow your working pace, watch your posture and avoid any exercises that cause pain. Your physiotherapist can help with manual treatments to reduce trigger points and also identify causative factors such as poor training technique, posture and biomechanics. If you have any questions about trigger points and how they might be affecting you, don’t hesitate to ask your physiotherapist.