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By Alex MacPhee, RMT

3 Minute Read

We’ve all experienced that ‘ball’ of tense muscles in certain areas of the body, typically where we tend to hold our stress, such as the upper shoulders & neck. The tension builds slowly and without much warning, but before we know it, we start to feel dull achy pain, our mobility is decreased, and it becomes difficult to work, play, and sleep comfortably. These areas of tension are often referred to as trigger points, and they are extremely common in the body. Let’s dive into learning a bit more about trigger points and how you can successfully manage them to avoid them affecting your activities of daily living.
Tired girl massaging neck suffering from back pain
A trigger point, often referred to as a knot, is a hyperirritable spot or a palpable nodule found within a taut band of the skeletal muscles’ fascia. A trigger point can be found in any muscle within the body, and often refers to pain or weakness to another area of the body. Patients who suffer from trigger points often complain of persistent discomfort and a reduction in range of motion. The most common areas for trigger points to develop are within the neck and shoulders, and are typically present as a result of poor posture, injury and ongoing stress.

Albeit painful, trigger points can also cause other symptoms such as headaches, jaw pain, low back pain and decreased range of motion in any area of the body. Other characteristics of trigger points include a dull ache, tenderness, tingling, involuntary muscle contractions and a temperature difference in the affected area.

Male masseur with strong hands professionally massaging scapulas and shoulders to female client.
There are two types of trigger points to note: active trigger points and latent trigger points. Active trigger points tend to be painful at all times or during movement as they can limit the extent of a patient’s range of motion. Latent trigger points are only painful upon palpation and can cause a specific referral pattern depending on the muscle affected. Latent trigger points are very common and are normally discovered through massage therapy treatments. Patients often come for their visit mentioning that they have been feeling great, but want to keep up with maintenance treatments, and then discover throughout the massage that they had more tension and/or trigger points than they anticipated. As such, it is important to maintain a regular treatment schedule as if left untreated, latent trigger points can become more problematic and develop into active trigger points, in which case they are often a bit more difficult to release. With active trigger points, there tends to be more tension in the surrounding musculature, which can further inhibit patients’ ability to perform at their best.
Women who are relaxed by receiving acupuncture on his back
There are many different ways to treat trigger points such as massage therapy techniques, acupuncture or dry needling, and other manual therapies performed by healthcare professionals such as chiropractors and physiotherapists. Other modalities can include therapeutic ultrasound, low-level laser therapy, electrostimulation with a TENS of IFC machine, and shockwave therapy. Within the scope of massage therapy, Swedish massage techniques, deep tissue techniques and trigger point therapy techniques are effective treatment approaches.

Trigger point therapy techniques involve palpating a trigger point and applying direct pressure in a downward motion. This form of treatment can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful as the muscle itself is angry and the referral pattern can cause a variety of new and different sensations. Another way to reduce trigger points is by constantly going over the affected areas, applying a deeper pressure. This style aids in chipping away larger trigger points and tends to be less painful than direct, specific pressure. Trigger point therapy can be integrated into any form of massage therapy treatment, and does not need to be used in conjunction with deep tissue massage techniques. A practitioner will work within the top end of your comfort zone, hovering around a 7/10 on the pain scale. With any aggressive massage techniques, a patient can experience some discomfort for 24-48 hours after treatment. The discomfort can feel like you just did a hard workout or almost bruised like, without the markings. The best way to combat this soreness is to drink lots of water, and take a hot shower or epsom salt bath. If at any point you feel the treatment is too painful, it is important to voice that to your practitioner as we want to make sure you are comfortable and feel better after treatment, not worse.

Smiling older woman feeling thankful for good day.
Trigger points, although extremely common, can be managed and treated relatively easily to avoid them becoming an irritant to your day to day life. If you have never experienced the benefits of massage therapy, reach out to us to learn more and/or book an initial appointment. You might be amazed as to how much is going on within your muscle tissues that you weren’t even aware of! We look forward to helping you Get Back to Your Active Life!