If you have inexplicable aches and pains in a part of your body that seems perfectly healthy otherwise, you may have developed one or more trigger points. These areas of tightly clenched muscle tissue send pain signals down the major nerve pathways, causing symptoms that may mimic an injury or other condition.
A basic understanding of trigger points and their effects can help sufferers seek the right form of treatment to bring their symptoms under control. Discover the answers to some frequently asked questions on the subject of trigger points and their management.
What Are Trigger Points?
Trigger points consist of muscle fibers that have contracted into tight, hypersensitive nodes. They typically develop in areas subjected to constant or recurring stress, such as the shoulders, upper back, and pelvic girdle. Myofascial trigger points can also affect the function of ligaments, tendons, or fascia.
Why Do Trigger Points Form?
Trigger points may spring up around acute injuries. For example, an auto accident may cause sprains, strains, and other soft tissue damage that prompt multiple trigger points to form in the affected region. Other potential causes include poor posture, lack of exercise, repetitive motion injuries, and stressful mood disorders.
Trigger points often occur alongside other chronic musculoskeletal or neurological challenges. Examples include arthritis, trigeminal neuralgia, lupus, Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, and fibromyalgia.
How Do Trigger Points Affect the Body?
Trigger points tend to relay pain signals to seemingly unrelated areas of the body, a phenomenon known as referred pain. This effect helps to differentiate them from tender points, which cause local pain when pressed but do not refer pain elsewhere. (Both problems may co-exist.)
The pain referred by trigger points often feels like a dull ache. However, trigger points do not always (or exclusively) cause pain. Other referred symptoms may include weakness, tingling, or numbness. While these symptoms often occur in the extremities, some sufferers may experience headaches or chest pains.
In some cases, one primary trigger point can produce other secondary (or satellite) trigger points. These secondary trigger points may resolve themselves once treatment brings the primary trigger point under control.
The absence of pain does not necessarily mean the absence of trigger points. Latent trigger points can lie dormant for long periods, producing pain only when a fresh stressor or trauma awakens them.
What Diagnostic Techniques Can Confirm the Presence of Trigger Points?
A pain management specialist can usually locate the telltale nodes of trigger points simply by feeling the affected muscle groups. Strong pressure on a trigger point may cause some part of the patient’s body to jerk or jump, a reaction known as jump sign. The local muscle fibers may also twitch noticeably.
How Do Pain Doctors Treat Trigger Points?
Pain doctors may use any of several methods to tame trigger points. One highly successful technique involves injecting the trigger point with a combination of anesthetic and corticosteroid medications. The anesthetic provides immediate pain relief, while the corticosteroid eases tissue inflammation.
In some cases, the doctor may add botulinum toxin A, popularly known as Botox, to a trigger point injection. This substance stops nerve signals in their tracks, including the signals that tell muscles to contract. As a result, the tight knots that make up the trigger point relax.
In addition to these treatments, your doctor may recommend other forms of therapy to ease muscle tightness and improve posture or flexibility. For example, you may benefit from massage therapy to loosen muscle knots. A variety of both self-massages or professional massages can provide temporary or lasting relief.
Additionally, stretching exercises to limber your tissues such as rotating the neck or circling the shoulders can help. Regularly doing these will improve your chances of pain relief. Strength training to improve your muscular support can also help.
Finally, simple lifestyle changes such as exercising good posture, using chairs with proper support, and walking around instead of sitting at a desk all day can help as well.
What Can You Do to Manage or Prevent Trigger Point Issues?
Once you have managed to rid yourself of troublesome trigger points, you may adopt numerous preventative care habits to keep future trigger points away. You may need to change your sleep schedule, take in more vitamins, adopt better postural habits, or avoid specific tasks that cause repetitive stress injuries.
If you have an underlying health condition or syndrome commonly associated with trigger point formation, seek the appropriate treatment for that problem before it can cause your trigger point problem to recur.
Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates offers a variety of pain-blocking techniques and technologies, including trigger point injections. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation and learn more about your trigger point treatment options. We look forward to relieving you from your trigger point pain and answering any questions or concerns you may have.