What Are Trigger Points?

Jul 05, 2016

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Myofascial trigger points, commonly referred to as simply trigger points, are areas on your body that are hypersensitive to pain.

Myofascial trigger points, commonly referred to as simply trigger points, are areas on your body that are hypersensitive to pain. The term myofascial refers to muscle tissues (myo) and the connective tissues in and around them (fascia). Pain is often caused by myofascial trigger points, which are unique in how they affect different areas. Your trigger points not only hurt when pressure is applied to them, they also have a quality called “referred pain.” This means that a trigger point in one muscle can cause pain in another muscle or joint pain.

Referred Pain

Nerves are linked in incredible ways. Signals to various parts of your body often share nerve pathways in the spinal cord. Have you ever felt pain in one area of your body that wasn’t where the root of the pain was coming from? When the muscle at the top of your shoulder develops a trigger point, the pain you feel in that spot will travel to your neck and reach your head, instigating a headache. This is a common example of the property of referred pain. Another common example is when you experience a heart attack. You may feel pain in the neck, jaws, arms, or abdomen, even though the source of the pain is in your heart.

Active trigger points in the neck and shoulder muscles frequently cause headaches. Your muscles make up between 36 and 42% of your body weight. It is easy to see how much pain can affect your health and function when you consider how much of the body is made of muscle. If your muscles are not functioning properly, they become a huge source of discomfort.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Pain, stiffness, and tension due to the nature of active trigger points lead to physical limitation, loss of regular functions, and a deteriorating quality of life. Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic pain disorder characterized by active trigger points. These trigger points can form in a variety of ways. Most frequently, myofascial trigger points develop from sporting injuries or overuse of a muscle in repeated ways.

Common movements that can lead to myofascial pain syndrome include the following activities when performed for extended periods of time:

  • Typing on a keyboard or operating a computer mouse
  • Texting or operating other handheld devices
  • Gardening
  • Cleaning
  • Carrying weight
  • Heavy lifting/ loading
  • Poor posture
  • Clenching of muscles due to stress

Active vs Latent Trigger Points

Once a trigger point is in existence, it goes through two phases: active and latent. As it sounds, the active phase is when a trigger point is the most problematic. This is when the trigger point produces debilitating pain, causing you to seek some form of pain relief therapy. The pain you feel weakens the muscle within, causing it to have limited flexibility. The referred pain often feels like a dull, aching pain, or a burning sensation, or that of numbness and fatigue. It can also cause sweating, watery eyes, goosebumps, and dizziness.

Latent trigger points can sometimes hide in muscles for years before you are even aware of them. Unless you press on the point and feel the sensitivity to the pressure you exert, you probably would never notice it. These are very common and most people don’t know they have them. They can hang around years after supposed recovery from an injury.

Despite not being painful, they can lead to restricted movement, distorted muscle movement patterns, and stiffness or weakness of the muscles affected.

When you seek treatment for active trigger points, or myofascial trigger points, your New Jersey pain specialists at Garden State Pain Control are available to help. Dr. Neil Sinha, MD is highly skilled in pain management and is among the top physicians in the state to focus on debilitating pain conditions. Schedule your appointment today by calling 732-376-0330.