Saturday, June 12, 2010

What are trigger points?

by guest blogger Claire Gordon

A trigger point is hyper-irritable point within a band of muscle tissue. They can often be palpated as a lump within the muscle, and are tender. In some cases, pressing firmly on a trigger point will illicit a twitch in the muscle. Trigger points refer pain to other areas of the body in very predictable patterns. For example, the trapezius muscle is often the culprit behind tension headaches and jaw/tooth pain. You may feel the pain in your head, but it's the dysfunction in the trapezius muscle that needs to be treated. The referral pattern for headaches also includes the posterior neck muscles, and the muscles on the front of the neck on either side of the throat. To successfully treat the headache, all these trigger points within the referral pattern would need to be treated. It is important to remember that where the pain exists is not necessarily where the true problem resides.

Janet Travell, MD (1901-1997) is considered the pioneer in the field of trigger point therapy. Her book, co-written with David Simons, Myofacial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual remains the definitive text on trigger point therapy. There are two giant volumes which show trigger points for every muscle and their referral patterns. They are available for sale, or you can learn to treat trigger points yourself for free. There are many resources on-line to help you determine, based on your symptoms, which trigger points to treat. Here is some sites you might find useful:

The basic treatment for a trigger point is simple: stimulation. When you find a point, apply steady pressure until the point fades to pressure with no pain, or massage it. You can use tennis balls, foam rollers, fingers, knuckles, elbows to work into the points. Rubbing the correct points, not where you feel the pain is imperative.

There are many things that create trigger points: injuries, either overuse or impact; lack of movement; joint misalignment and poor posture; diets heavy in sugar and processed food; dehydration. Keep yourself well hydrated, eat well, move and massage your tender points. Soon, you can be on your way to pain free movement!

Claire is a licensed massage therapist specializing in Egoscue. She can be reached at

This information is provided to explain trigger point therapy and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your health care provider before starting any health or fitness program.

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