“What is a trigger point? A muscle knot?!”
I hear that comment daily whenever I am performing soft tissue work with clients in the clinic. “Knots” are areas of tightness that are lying in wait in our muscles, just waiting to be discovered. Sometimes they show up the day after a tough workout. Sometimes it’s after sleeping in a “funny” position. Or sometimes, they are there after sitting at a desk hunched over for hours every day. Regardless of the cause, those areas of muscle tightness are called myofascial trigger points, and they cause our muscles to no longer function normally.
Our muscles are made up of special cells called muscle fibers. These muscle fibers band together and are then surrounded by connective tissue. Our muscles need to both contract and relax in order to work properly. But what is a trigger point? A trigger point is a spot or nodule of hyper-sensitive and irritable muscles within a muscle belly. They tend to develop when a muscle is irritated by a new or more-strenuous-than-usual repetitive motion or activity. Trigger points form as a contraction within the muscle, which can pull on tendons and ligaments associated with the muscle and can even cause pain deep within a joint where there are no muscles.
There are two types of trigger points: active trigger points and latent trigger points. Active trigger points are those that cause tenderness and referred pain when you press on them. Latent trigger points are those bumps or knots that you can feel, but do not elicit pain. But just because they are not painful doesn’t mean they are harmless. Latent trigger points still cause a dysfunction in the muscle which can increase the stiffness and weakness of the muscle, and prevent that muscle from functioning normally.
Even though many of us may think developing trigger points involves a strenuous workout, or an injury of some kind, in reality, trigger points can develop for any number of reasons. Mechanical overload, muscle inefficiency, repetitive usage resulting in muscle fatigue, trauma (physical and psychological), inflammation, and nutritional or metabolic factors can all be reasons a trigger point develops.
Things such as stretching, massage, dry needling, soft tissue mobilization, and myofascial release work are all examples of treatment techniques for trigger points that can be used in the physical therapy clinic. The goal of each technique is to decrease the tightness of the fascia and muscle in the area and increase blood flow to the area. At Rebalance PT we can also provide treatment techniques such as foam rolling, using a thera-gun, lacrosse ball massage, and stretching as methods to help manage and alleviate painful trigger points at home.
Trigger points aren’t anything to seriously worry about. However, they can be the a reason why you are having pain difficulties doing things in your daily routine. Fortunately, trigger points can be something we, at Rebalance PT, can help treat to improve your overall function and quality of life.
Written by Katelyn Brady, PT, DPT, Cert MDT
ShirlAdmin. (2021, August 12). Painful muscle knots ~ trigger points and relief > hampton physical therapy. Hampton Physical Therapy. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://hamptonpt.com/painful-muscle-knots-trigger-points-and-relief/
Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, June 15). Myofascial trigger point. Wikipedia. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myofascial_trigger_point
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