Could Trigger Points Be Triggering Your Pain?










Daily headaches kept Sara either popping aspirin at

work or on the couch at home.  She didn’t like the side

effects of the prescription from her family physician

and the referral to a neurologist for more testing was

still 3 months away.


She showed up to our office unsure as to whether or

not a physical therapist could help.  She did know she

was desperate for some relief. As she put it “to hold

her over”.


It turned out Sara’s headaches were caused by

trigger points in her neck.  And that is absolutely an

area where we can use our specialized skills to help.

In fact, Sara left the clinic that day headache free

(without aspirin) and after a few weeks the headaches

weren’t coming back.


Her prescription meds were flushed and her

neurologist appointment was cancelled. A lot of time

and money was saved in the process.


What is a trigger point?


A tight area or “knot” within a muscle is a trigger

point. It is different from a muscle spasm, which

occurs when the entire muscle is contracting. Also

different from a muscle strain where there is

damage to the muscle tissue.


A trigger point causes a shortening of the muscle

fibers and causes pain with pressure.  In addition,

they cause referred pain.  This means that a trigger

point in one muscle can create pain in another area,

often very distant, from the pain point.


Do I have trigger points?


If you feel like you have problem with daily stubborn

and unexplained aching and stiffness, then trigger

points may be to blame.  In fact, they can accompany

and complicate other injures of the muscles and joints.


They can make the original problem, such as muscle

strain or arthritis, worse and in many cases actually

overshadow the original pain.


Why do I have trigger points?


When a muscle has been contracted repetitively, a

trigger point most often occurs.  This can occur  in

several ways:

  • Repetitive movements
  • Heavy lifting or carrying
  • Habitually poor posture
  • Muscle tensing due to stress
  • Prolonged bed rest or sitting


In Sara’s case, chronic poor posture at her desk all

day caused the trigger points in her neck, which

referred pain to her head.


Treating Trigger Points


The good news is that trigger points respond well

to physical therapy and can solve many pain

problems.  The trick is often in diagnosis due to

referred pain that attempts to throw us off course.


For example, some people diagnosed with carpal

tunnel syndrome actually have wrist pain due to a

trigger point in a muscle under their armpit.


As orthopedic physical therapists, we are skilled at

diagnosing and managing trigger points.  However,

we frequently see patients when they find us as a

last resort.


They commonly arrive with a list of  diagnostic

procedures, none of which was able to explain or

relieve their pain. Luckily for Sara, she came to us

before costly tests and procedures were performed.


We treat many orthopedic conditions where trigger

points are involved including shoulder impingement,

neck and jaw pain, low back problems, and tennis

elbow to list a few.  If you have a diagnosis of arthritis,

tendinitis, bursitis, or ligament injury treating trigger

points may significantly reduce your pain.


So, what do WE do about them? 


Trigger points and the related muscle tightness or

damage will not resolve with rest.  In fact, if pain does

subside the trigger point is likely dormant but will

resurface when activity is resumed.  This is not the

answer for long term relief.


We have a tool bag full of techniques including manual

therapy, soft tissue mobilization, and most effectively

dry needling to release and relax the trigger points.

The goal is to release the contracted fibers and

increase circulation to the muscle enabling oxygen

and nutrients to return to the area.


Ultimately, we must also work to correct the muscle

imbalances, poor postures, or modify repetitive

activities that caused the trigger point in the first



If you can relate to Sara’s story, even if other physical

therapy or medical interventions have failed, trigger

point therapy may be the answer you have been

looking for.


Identify if trigger points are contributing to your pain

even before you sign up for treatment sessions by

meeting with a physical therapist for a discovery visit.

Inquire on our website today