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
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
- 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
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
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 www.peakpotentialpt.com