Trigger point therapy is usually combined with regular or medical massage. It is a therapy that seeks to eliminate the source of pain and muscle dysfunction, rather than just alleviating the symptoms. The massage therapist must do some detective work to track down what factors, stressors or injury caused the problem and what additional factors might perpetuate the pain, dysfunction and symptoms over and over again.
The therapist must also identify the signs and symptoms of each client to find the offending muscle or muscles. Sometimes pain in the arm or hand will point to a trigger point in the back or shoulder muscle. This is called the “pain referral zone”. The site of the pain may not be where the trigger is located. The therapist must find where the trigger point is, even though the pain might be in a different area.
The therapist will massage, feeling (palpating) where he/she thinks the offending muscle is located to find the trigger points. For most people these trigger points are the same for each muscle and the pain referral zones are the same for most. These usual locations are well documented in Dr. Travell’s books and charts. (See the Trigger Point Pain page.) Trigger points feel like a hard nodule or knot in the muscle, with the muscle usually being taut. Most often the muscle will “flip” under the therapist’s hands like a tight rubber band. The trigger will often respond with a twitch response when palpated (felt through touch).
Sometimes the taut muscle will have many such nodules. Usually one key trigger point will be at the site of injury or trauma. This one point left untreated can lead to further dysfunction and cause many more satellite trigger points in the same muscle or synergist (complementing), or antagonist (opposing) muscle in the same muscle group.
Trigger points can also be active or asleep (dormant). When providing trigger point therapy a massage therapist will sometimes find “sleeping” triggers that do not hurt at the time, but that have hurt repetitively in the past. Once located, he can eliminate them.
The therapist will first use compression on the trigger point, holding steady pressure on it. Then she will use specific massage techniques to alleviate and release the trigger point and pain cycle. If the trigger point is active and painful, the mild pain of the trigger point therapy is a relieving sensation. The muscle will relax and the trigger point pain will lessen and go away. Sometimes the pain and symptoms will go away immediately. If the triggers have been there for a long time, it may take several trigger point therapy treatments.
In some cases a taut muscle with trigger points will press on nerves, blood vessels or other parts of the body causing a secondary condition. For instance, triggers in the scalene muscles of the neck could press on the thoracic outlet, causing nerve compression of the brachial plexus nerve. This can mimic the pain from such conditions as thoracic outlet syndrome, or Carpel tunnel syndrome in the arm, wrist and hands.
Trigger points can also feel like or cause the following conditions: headaches, jaw pain, stiff neck, neck and back pain and stiffness, sinus problems, dizziness, toothache, TMJ pain, clicking in joint areas, sacro-iliac, frozen shoulder, piriformis syndrome, pseudo sciatica, weak hip flexion, IBS symptoms, knee problems, weak ankles, calf cramps, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and somatovisceral symptoms (tension of muscle traveling into the organs) with unexplained nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, appendicitis-like pain, heartburn, etc.
Trigger points can mimic cardiac symptoms. Caution! ALWAYS get trigger point therapy secondary to a medical examination with a full release from a physician!
This goes back to my previous statement: (Trigger Point Pain) One way of defining a trigger point is to rule out what they are not. When you rule out other medical conditions and have unexplained pain and dysfunction, trigger point therapy done by a message therapist might be an option to relieve your symptoms.
Please subscribe to or our "What's New" newsletter or to an RSS feed (see left column) to be alerted whenever new information is added to the site.
We'd appreciate it if you would "Like" us on Facebook, or share this site with others.
Have questions? Do you have pains that are caused by trigger points? Ask questions about your symptoms.
Gained Relief? Share how you gained relief through trigger point therapy.
Therapist? If you are bodyworker, how have you helped clients with trigger point therapy?