What Is a Trigger Point?
Trigger Points Defined
Trigger points are a very common cause of pain, but also very commonly overlooked by many healthcare providers. Commonly referred to as a “knot” in a muscle, a trigger point is a localized area of hyperirritability and tightness in a muscle that is painful and tender to pressure. The increased tension within trigger points tends to cause a reduction of blood flow through the affected muscle. This reduced circulation leads to an accumulation of toxins and inflammatory chemicals that irritate the local nerves. This triggers a “snowball effect” of nerve irritation & pain which triggers more tension, less circulation, more irritation & pain, etc. The pain and symptoms that trigger points cause is commonly referred to as myofascial pain syndrome.
Myofascial pain syndrome tends to cause stiffness, weakness, and local pain in the region near the trigger point. But because of the interconnected relationships that muscles, nerves, and joints share, a more severe trigger point will cause pain, numbness, and/or tingling to radiate (referred pain) to different parts of the body often far away from the trigger point. Every individual trigger point has a referred pain pattern that is characteristic to each muscle. So trigger points located far away from where you are feeling your pain can often be the source of that pain. For example, a trigger point in the piriformis muscle located near your hip can be the source of the pain, numbness, and/or tingling you may be feeling in your foot. This condition is called piriformis syndrome, and can mimic or contribute to symptoms of sciatica or lumbar disc bulge. Trigger points in various muscles can mimic, contribute to, or cause a variety of symptoms and conditions including but not limited to: “pinched nerve”, carpal tunnel syndrome, headache, sinusitis, rotator cuff & shoulder pain, tennis elbow, and dizziness & vertigo.
Causes of Trigger Points
Joint restriction & misalignments are one of the most common causes of myofascial pain syndrome. Also, many of the same factors that cause joint restrictions & misalignments can also cause trigger points. Some of these common causes include any type of old or recent injury including: sports injuries, car accidents, whiplash syndrome, ankle sprains, and falls. Other causes of trigger points include: stress, poor posture, repetitive motions, prolonged sitting & standing without breaks, poor sleep habits, improper lifting, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and poor form during exercise and at the gym.
Differential Diagnosis of Trigger Points
Aside from the wide variety of symptoms that trigger points can cause, there are also more serious diseases that can mimic myofascial pain syndrome. Our doctors of chiropractic are highly skilled in diagnosing the condition, identifying the underlying causes, and determining which treatments would be most effective. Your chiropractor will take a detailed history and perform a physical, neurologic, and orthopedic examination tailored to your specific symptoms. Depending on the specifics of your condition, the doctor may order additional diagnostic testing including blood work, X-Rays and/or MRI studies, or other specialized testing.
Treatment of Trigger Points
Once an accurate diagnosis has been made, your chiropractic physician will discuss with you your various treatment options. Trigger point therapy is a massage technique in which a specialized type of deep pressure called “ischemic compression” is applied. For fast pain relief and long-lasting results, trigger point therapy is typically performed along with some combination of the many other natural treatments that we offer such as:
- Chiropractic Adjustments
- Homeopathy & Natural Medicine
- Physical Therapy Services & Sports Medicine
- Massage, Myofascial, & Manual Therapies
- Cold Laser Therapy
- ART (active release therapy) & Graston Technique
Or if you prefer an integrated approach utilizing both natural and conventional medical treatment, then we will be happy to refer you to and/or co-manage your condition with the appropriate medical specialist or other health care provider. If your condition would be more appropriately managed by another health care provider, a prompt referral would be made.
Contact us if you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment.