A trigger point is a hyper-irritable spot which can cause pain, which forms when a muscle is stressed or injured. You may be familiar with trigger points if you have pressed on a specific spot in a muscle and felt a ‘knot’ or ‘tight band’. They can vary in size and can be described as a ‘tiny lump’, ‘little peas’, ‘large lumps’ or ‘rope-like bands lying next to each other’. They can be formed from the following:
What many people do not realise is that trigger points can refer pain, so one TP in a muscle can create pain in another muscle. This is why many people associate tension in the upper shoulders/back of the neck with stress. The upper trapezius trigger points can refer pain to the base of the skill, around the back of the ear and to the temple. If you have a headache that feels like it’s at the back of your eye – it could be from a muscle at the top of your shoulder!
There are two significant phases of trigger points – Active and Latent. Active TP hurts when it is pressed and can cause pain to the surrounding muscles. It often causes a dull, deep burning pain or a numbness and fatigue sensation. Latent (or inactive) trigger points can lie quietly within a muscle and develop anywhere in the body. They are not painful and do not cause any referred pain. But they can cause restrictive movement, distorted muscle movement patterns and stiffness/weakness of the affected muscle.
Trigger point therapy aims to alter the chemical reaction within the muscle which causes it to spasm. This is done by applying direct pressure to the area, releasing tension which reduces pain.