Trigger point therapy is a soft-tissue treatment that helps release tense, painful knots in your muscles and fascia (web of connective tissue). Components of trigger point therapy may include sustained pressure, posture and movement correction, electrical stimulation, dry needling, and massage. Trigger point therapy is performed by a PT putting and holding pressure on your trigger points. This temporarily cuts off circulation to the tissue, which raises levels of a chemical in the tissues called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide signals your body to open up microcapillaries (extremely small blood vessels), thus increasing blood flow to help break up the trigger point and end the pain-spasm-pain cycle.
The goal of physical therapy for trigger points generally is not to eliminate your trigger points. Rather, you should focus on learning strategies to help manage painful trigger points. Physical therapy can help you manage your pain and help determine the underlying body mechanics that may be making your muscle knots painful.
What Are Trigger Points?
A trigger point is a taut band of skeletal muscle inside a muscle group. Trigger points are tender to the touch and can refer pain to distant parts of the body. You may have regional, persistent pain resulting in a decreased range of motion in the affected muscles. Trigger points feel like little marbles or knots just under your skin. When pressing on trigger points, many people feel no pain or discomfort. Sometimes, trigger points become very sensitive, and some people feel significant pain in areas where they have trigger points.
Have you ever had a Charlie horse in a muscle? If so, then you know how this feels: the entire muscle goes into a painful spasm, and the only thing that seems to help is to gently elongate and stretch the muscle. Now, think of trigger points as tiny Charlie horses in your muscle. These pesky points don’t cause that entire muscle to spasm, just a very small portion of it. But if you have enough trigger points, you may start to feel intense pain and experience limited muscle mobility.
Where Do People Get Trigger Points?
Trigger points and muscle knots can occur anywhere in your body. Wherever there is muscle tissue, there may be a small area of tissue tension. This could be a trigger point. Areas in the body where trigger points are more commonly found may include:
- Your upper trapezius muscles on either side of your neck just above your shoulders
- Your quadratus lumborum muscles of your low back
- Your hamstrings
- Your calf muscles
- Along your iliotibial band
- You can get trigger points anywhere in your body, and if they occur excessively, you may experience chronic pain and myofascial pain syndrome.