Trigger Point

Painful shoulder conditions may need physical therapy to help return to normal.
Physical therapy can help if you have trigger points.. Stockbyte/Getty Images

Definition: A trigger point describes a taught band of skeletal muscle located within a larger muscle group. Trigger points are tender to the touch and can refer pain to distant parts of the body. Patients may have regional, persistent pain resulting in a decreased range of motion in the affected muscles. Massage, spray and stretch, and injections are a few techniques to decrease trigger point pain.

What are Trigger Points?

Trigger points feel like little marbles or knots just under your skin. When pressing on trigger points, many people feel no pain or discomfort. Sometimes, trigger points become very sensitive, and some people feel significant pain in areas where they have trigger points.

Research indicates that no one really knows what the exact tissue is that makes you feel trigger points. It is also unknown why some people feel pain when touching muscle knots and some people do not.

There are two types of trigger points that physical therapists treat: active and passive trigger points. Passive trigger points simply hurt at their exact location. If you have a painful muscle knot in your hamstring and someone presses on it, the pain will be felt right where the pressure is on the knot.

An active trigger point refers pain to another part of the body. If someone presses on an active trigger point in your shoulder, you may feel pain in your shoulder along with symptoms in your chest or arm.

Regardless of the type of trigger point you have or the fact that we do not fully understand what is happening when trigger points form, you may benefit from physical therapy to help manage your problem.

How Can Physical Therapy Help Trigger Points?

If you seek out care from a physical therapist for trigger point therapy, do not go with the goal of eliminating your trigger points.

Rather, focus on learning strategies to help manage painful trigger points.  Physical therapy for muscle knots can help you manage your pain and help determine the underlying body mechanics that may be making your muscle knots painful.

There are many different physical therapy treatments for trigger points. These may include:

Research indicates that there is not one single best treatment for muscle knots. One thing is for certain-engaging in an active treatment program of postural correction and exercise is superior to passive treatments for trigger points. Check in with your physical therapist for a complete evaluation of your condition to learn of self-care strategies to manage your trigger points.

First Steps to Take if You Are Feeling Painful Trigger Points

If you are dealing with painful muscle knots and trigger points, first, don't panic.

Trigger points are benign and pose no significant danger to you or your health. They simply cause pain which may limit your normal mobility.

To manage your painful muscle knots, check in with your doctor to ensure that there is no underlying sinister cause of your pain. Ask about physical therapy to help treat your trigger points, and start engaging in an active treatment program to make a positive difference with your trigger points. By learning strategies to self-manage your pain, you can be in control of your condition.

Also Known As: muscle spasm, muscle knots

This article has been edited by Brett Sears, PT.

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