Trigger Points: What They Are and How to Treat Them
Trigger points make up part of what's known as myofascial syndrome, a syndrome that's more and more common. In extreme cases, it can be incapacitating.
Muscle pain is a common complaint from adults both during doctor appointments as well as visits to the emergency room. Today, we’ll look at myofascial syndrome, explain what trigger points are, and discuss possible treatment options.
The skeletal muscle system represents almost 50 % of an adult’s weight. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that muscle pain is a common cause of discomfort. Trigger points are fundamental when it comes to explaining myofascial syndrome. These points refer to specific painful regions in the muscles.
A trigger point is a small hyperirritable spot in the muscle. In other words, it’s a tiny region in comparison to the rest of the muscle and it hurts particularly under pressure.
Myofascial syndrome is, therefore, a set of muscle pains caused by trigger points and their stimulation. In other words, we can’t consider this syndrome without identifying where these regions are and what they’re reacting, too.
In myofascial syndrome, upon examining the muscle, one can observe a specific, location-specific pain that’s part of a larger palpable band. This band tends to be tense, almost like a contracture of muscle fibers.
Therefore, the term “trigger point” refers to this specific area of pain. Experts have discovered at least 255 triggers points distributed among the different muscles in the body. In fact, no part of the body’s exempt from possessing them.
Typically, patients themselves may point out the location of this small region that hurts under pressure. Or, they may experience spontaneous pain. No one knows one’s body better than oneself, and this is of the key principles to approaching chronic pain.
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Trigger points are all over the body and in almost all of the muscles. However, there are regions in the body that are more prone to developing myofascial pain.
Among these are the following:
- Muscles of the neck
- Shoulder girdle: The area of the trapezius muscle
- Pelvic girdle: The pelvic region
- Masticatory muscles
The symptoms of the stimulation of a trigger point are, predominantly, pain and muscle contracture. Muscle tension increases and the fibers tighten, which shortens the total length of the affected muscle.
This leads to weakness and a decrease in strength as well as less tolerance to strain. Those who suffer from myofascial syndrome complain of not being able to complete gym exercises, for example. They may also have a hard time finishing long walks.
When a trigger point is active, the pain is spontaneous. What’s more, you don’t need to place pressure on it in order to produce symptoms. On the other hand, dormant trigger points are those that only respond in the case of external stimuli.
If myofascial syndrome affects the muscles in a person’s face, then it will produce symptoms associated with the auditory system. For example, dizziness, lack of balance, and buzzing in the ear. In more serious cases, it even can lead to spontaneous fainting and vomiting.
Fortunately, trigger points can go away naturally without the need for any treatment. However, in order for this to occur, it’s important to rest properly and make sure the underlying cause does not persist. Of course, they don’t always go away on their own and, in these cases, some sort of treatment will be necessary.
Different techniques exist in order to eliminate trigger points. Some of these are invasive and others are bases on general measures. Among the non-invasive options are the following:
- Massage therapy, relaxing massage
- Post isometric relaxation
- Cryotherapy or cold therapy (the application of cold temperatures)
Serious cases may require more drastic and invasive measures. For example, dry needle puncture, electrotherapy, or infiltration. The use of ultrasound also can also positive results.
What’s more, the use of prolotherapy has also gained ground in the treatment of myofascial. This option consists of applying irritating substances directly to affected tendons and tissues. The main objective is to restore lost mobility.
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Myofascial syndrome is chronic and requires monitoring
Given the long list of possible differential diagnoses, it’s important to consult a doctor early on if you notice any trigger points. He or she will be able to indicate what steps patients should take. Meanwhile, patients must modify the habits and behaviors that perpetuate incorrect postures.
While it’s true that a trigger point may go away on its own, it’s important to treat myofascial pain to keep it from becoming chronic. Therefore, it’s always best to see a doctor as soon as possible.