What is a Trigger Point in a Muscle?

Article by John Miller

What is a Trigger Point?

trigger point release

Doctors’ Travell and Simons defined a myofascial trigger point as a hyperirritable spot in a skeletal muscle. A trigger point is usually painful on compression and may give rise to characteristic referred pain, referred tenderness, motor dysfunction and autonomic phenomena. Myofascial trigger points occur in both acute and chronic pain conditions. Hendler and Kozikowski suggest that myofascial trigger points as the most commonly missed diagnosis in chronic pain patients.

What Causes a Trigger Point?

According to Dr Gunn, ‘Shortening in muscles acting across a joint increase joint pressure, upsets alignment, and can precipitate pain in the joint, i.e. arthralgia.’ There is also a theory that permanent muscle contraction is abnormal and can create an ischaemic muscle pain due to the restriction decreasing normal muscle blood flow.

How Are Your Trigger Points Treated?

It is possible to deactivate triggers points by various methods such as acupressure, dry needling, muscle stretching, trigger point massage devices or injecting them with different substances, including saline (saltwater) placebo.

How Do You Release a Trigger Point?

Trigger Point Therapy is a form of Remedial Massage Therapy. Direct pressure is applied to specified points on tender muscle tissue to reduce muscle tension and pain relief.

Trigger point therapy is for almost everyone. Muscles with active trigger points are always weaker than healthy muscles and cannot move through their full range of motion. Because they cannot perform their normal function, you recruit alternative muscles to perform the compromised muscle activity. These secondary muscles can develop trigger points themselves if you don’t treat the original hypertonic muscle.

Dry Needling

Dry needling may help decrease local muscular pain and improve function by restoring your muscle’s ability to elongate and shorten. When your therapist inserts a fine filament needle into the centre of a myofascial trigger point, blood pools around the needle, triggering the contracted muscle fibres to relax by providing those fibres with fresh oxygen and nutrients as by flushing away any additional acidic chemicals. This reaction leads to the decompression of the local blood and nerve supply.

How Does Dry Needling Work?

The needle sites can be at the epicentre of taut, tender muscle bands, or they can be near the spine where the nerve root may have become irritated and supersensitive. Penetration of a healthy muscle is painless. But, a shortened, supersensitive muscle may ‘grasp’ the needle or trigger the muscle.

Dry needling of the ‘shortened’ muscle band causes an immediate, palpable relaxation. The patient often experiences a sense of release and increased range of motion. The trigger point release obtained from dry needling can be long-lasting when used in conjunction with motor control retraining and postural and movement behaviour retraining. The result is a stimulation of the stretch receptor within the muscle (muscle spindle), producing a reflex relaxation or lengthening response.

Dry Needling vs Trigger Point Injections

Researchers have studied trigger point injections using placebo saline and drug therapy. They have concluded that the only consistent factor is the pain relief from the needle’s stimulation for the infusion itself rather than the drug or saline solution used. While the jury is probably still out on the effect of trigger point injections, it is perhaps fair to suggest that the trigger point’s mechanical needle stimulation without the use of a drug  (dry needling) does positively affect hyperstimulated trigger points. If you are interested in dry needling, most of our PhysioWorks physiotherapists are dry needle trained.

What Conditions Could Acupuncture or Dry Needling Help?

Acupuncture or dry needling may be considered by your healthcare professional after their thorough assessment in the following conditions:

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