Trigger point therapy is a combination of treatment techniques for chronic, unexplained pain. Trigger points are painful muscle knots. These trigger points appear to be the most common immediate cause of pain in the body. Trigger points are often located at a different place than where the symptoms are.
Trigger points are local cramps in muscles, where due to a lack of blood flow and oxygen, an oversensitive spot arises. From the outside, these muscle knots are felt as painful hard lumps or skeins. When considerable pressure is applied here, it can generate radiating pain in a different part of the body. Trigger points can arise in all muscles in the body and always at fixed places. Namely there where the nervous system transfers information onto the muscle. The cause is often overload or a trauma (for example, surgery or accident), but also lack of exercise, stress or poor diet can lead to the development of trigger points.
Trigger points cause headaches, pain in neck and jaw, lower back pain, tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome. They are the source of pain in joints, such as the shoulder, wrist, hip, knee and ankle, which is often mistaken for arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis and injuries to the ligaments. Trigger points also cause other symptoms, such as dizziness, earache, sinus infection, nausea, acid reflux, heart rhythm disturbances, pain in the genitals and numbness in hands and feet. RSI symptoms are often caused by trigger points, which have been developed as a result of muscle overuse. Even fibromyalgia may have its origin in trigger points.
Trigger points can be treated in several ways, for example with:
- Dry needling. This will deactivate trigger points by inserting acupuncture needles. A needle is placed exactly into the trigger point, allowing the local cramping condition to be eliminated and local relaxation to occur.
- A mental/emotional approach. Trigger points are caused by reduced blood flow. It’s known that the amygdala (a part of the brains that stores emotional memories) affects via the hypothalamus the autonomic nervous system and thereby the blood flow throughout the body.
- Massage. Massage techniques stimulate relaxation of muscle fibers at the site of the trigger point and improve blood flow. Techniques that are often used are deep strokes or continuous pressure.
- Self massage. An effective way to reduce symptoms is self-treatment of trigger points. This can be done with or without tools.
- Myofascial release techniques. This is an approach, in which fascia (connective tissue) is made smoothly with soft or firmer techniques. Fascia is the ‘glue’, by which everything in the body is connected to each other. Trigger points are part of the fascia, which is lying in and around muscles.
- Cooling in combination with stretching. This technique is also known as spray-and-stretch. Here, a cold spray is sprayed onto the skin. Right after, the muscle concerned is stretched, causing the trigger points to be deactivated.
People often experience relief almost immediately. Most symptoms are remedied within 3 to 10 days by trigger point therapy. Chronic symptoms usually require more time and dedication, but there is often a significant improvement within 6 weeks. A permanent absence of symptoms depends on the cause and factors that maintain the trigger points. A lot of attention will be given to this during treatment.
- There are several tools to make self-treatment as easy as possible. First of all, there is the tennis ball and the bouncing ball, which are for sale in various sizes. In addition, one can also use the Thera Cane, the Knot and the Quadruped.
- The American doctors Janet Travell and David Simons were the pioneers in the field of diagnosis and treatment of trigger points. In 1983, the first part of their medical textbook ‘Myofascial Pain & Dysfunction; The Trigger Point Manual’ appeared.
- ‘The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook’ by Clair Davies was published in 2001. This book makes the information from ‘The Trigger Point Manual’ also accessible to non-medics. It is the most frequently sold book on pain management.