July 1

What is a Trigger Point and Why do They Cause Pain?

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It is very common for many people to experience pain that comes in the forms of “muscle knots.” These painful knots are known as trigger points. These trigger points are tight and contracted muscles, almost like hard nodules. They may feel swollen, tense, and/or tender site and block off blood supply. When blood supply is disconnected the surrounding nerve cells become irritated, sending pain signals to the region.  

Trigger point pain can be felt in the muscles all over your body. These muscle knots can develop anywhere the muscle tissue is. Commonly, trigger points can be found in the back and neck. Your tense, contracted muscle knot may be in your neck and have the pain spread to your shoulders.  

Stiff muscles in your shoulders may spread pain to your neck. And when pain spreads in this manner it is also known as ‘referred pain.’ 

When the muscles become tense, and form these hardened nodules, muscle fibers become tense and contract, causing pain in other parts of the body. Many people suffer from these sharp and aching pains. But where do you feel trigger point pain?  

What Is A Trigger Point? 

The muscles in the human body are composed of cells known as fibers that are bundled together. These bundled fibers can be thicker in some areas of the body and thinner in others. These muscle fibers are surrounded by connective tissues and nerves. These muscle fibers contract and release, allowing movement and rest in the body.  

Exhausted and strained muscle fibers can lead to trigger points forming in your body. Have you ever woken up feeling achey and sore? Especially if you have had a difficult workout? Maybe you went for a hike on a particularly hard trail. But after strenuous activity like this, you may feel the hard knots forming in your muscles.  

These tensed muscles can cause pain immediately. Trigger points are the most common cause of musculoskeletal pain. Repetitive movements and exercises can hurt your spinal health over a period of time. This burden placed on your muscles will encourage trigger points forming in your muscles. Trigger points are the painful knots that have formed in nodule like shapes in the muscle fibers. The muscles remain in a sustained contraction, causing pain sensations in the region.  

It is important to recognize the symptoms of trigger point pain because if muscle pain is ignored it may lead to other physical complications. Trigger point pain is often misdiagnosed as a different pain condition because of its similarities in symptoms. The pain symptoms they produce resemble other injuries or conditions. It is important to have a trained specialist evaluate the nature of your pain and the knotted muscles.  

If you are suffering from trigger point pain, you may feel an aching sensation deep in your joints and taut muscles. The knots may physically feel swollen or hard. If the muscle does rest, it may still be tender to the touch.  

Some symptoms of trigger points are: 

  • Referred pain 
  • Dull ache 
  • Pressing pain 
  • Burning or numbness 
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Fatigue 
  • Nausea 

Characteristic of trigger points, the referred pain may also cause headaches, toothaches, and earaches. For example, you may have a knot in the muscles of your shoulder causing referred pain through your neck and head. This referred pain causes the debilitating headache you experience.  

When the muscles contract, the surrounding area of muscle and tissue become stretched thin. The surrounding area can cause the trigger points to form, restricting normal movement or causing pain. You should also note that there are “active” and “latent” trigger points present in the body. When the muscles become taut and form knots, but do not cause immediate pain, they are considered latent trigger points.  

Latent trigger points can cause stiffness and weakness but rarely cause more pain than this. An active trigger point manifests the symptoms immediately, with pain being referred to other regions of the body. The pain can be a deep ache, with a burning or tingling sensation being felt.  

Sometimes, latent trigger points can turn into active trigger points, so it is important to monitor your symptoms and to provide your body with appropriate rest and treatment. 
 

How Do You Get A Trigger Point? 

Unfortunately, there are many ways that trigger points can form in the body. Because so many initially form without any pain, it is difficult to determine until the muscle spasms become debilitating.  

Repetitive motions, muscle weakness, and sports injuries can cause trigger points to form in the body. Mechanical pain caused by excessive stress and strain on muscles like bad postures and poor habits like improper bending and lifting can also cause trigger points to form.  

Muscles that have been injured and are continuously overused cause a strain on the body, clenching muscles. However, a sedentary lifestyle may contribute to you suffering from trigger point pain. If the muscles are weak, minimal use may provide a strain on them as well.  

Other factors that may contribute to trigger points forming in the body are from nutritional deficiencies. When the standard level of the vitamins and minerals (naturally found in the body) become low, they can contribute to muscle strain and damage. Vitamin insufficiencies can contribute to the formation of trigger points.  

Trigger points are usually found in the body’s upper back or shoulders. They can also be found in the base of the neck. They are tender to the touch and cause pain.  

How To Treat Trigger Points 

There are many steps you can take to reduce the risk of trigger points forming as well as treating the existing trigger points. It is important to treat your trigger point pain so the symptoms do not worsen and cause other conditions. If your symptoms remain untreated you may begin experiencing chronic headaches and neck pain.  

Simple trigger point treatments may include staying hydrated, stretching before working out, and taking supplements to maintain the healthy chemical balances of the body. Drinking lots of water and taking steps to make sure you do not become dehydrated, helps prevents the muscles from cramping and become tense. The muscle fibers won't become as shortened, making injury less likely.  

When exercising and participating in physical activity, your body releases vitamins and minerals through sweat. But those vitamins and minerals need to be replenished for the body to perform in an optimized way. Taking supplements to restore vitamin levels and minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium) can better support the body’s prevention on trigger points. 

The simplest (and yet the most overlooked) treatment for trigger points is stretching. It is important to stretch properly before and after physical activity. Gentle stretching before activity reduces strain on muscles and potential for injury. Stretching after physical activity also helps unwind some of the taut muscles so you do not experience pain later.  

Trigger point pain can severely impact your life. Your mobility may be limited and you may experience an increase in pain. The muscles need to lengthen and become stronger in order to relieve your pain symptoms. Trigger point therapy become critical so the pain does not escalate.  

Outside of the few treatments listed above, an effective treatment for trigger points is trigger point injections. If you find no relief from simple remedies like hydration and stretching, professional intervention may be needed. A medical professional can administer a trigger point injection to provide you relief. Medication is delivered with anesthetic and steroid in a trigger point injection. The injection is placed directly to the pain causing knot in your muscle. The medication allows the muscle to relax from its contraction, immediately providing relief. Discomfort ceases and the muscle stops straining.  

Untreated symptoms may provide disastrous for you. Ignoring signs or lack of treatment may exacerbate the pain and lead to other pain conditions. A skilled specialist with knowledge of muscles and trigger points will be able to accurately diagnose your pain and provide you with the means to find relief. The muscle may be massaged or given injections to find relief.  

If you find yourself struggling with trigger point pain, or are concerned you may be suffering from latent and/or active trigger points, call Pain and Spine Specialists (301) 703-8767 (Maryland), (724) 603-3560 (Pennsylvania), or (540) 433-1905 (Virginia) and speak to one of our professionals today. 


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Chronic Pain


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