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What are Trigger points ?

Back painsAlthough some people may describe trigger points as merely tender areas in the muscles, this is half the truth. A key characteristic of a trigger point is that it is tender to touch but all tender areas aren’t necessarily trigger points. If a particular area of a muscle feels tender but does not possess other characteristics of a trigger point, it may be just a tender point. Tender points are regions where there may be a lack of blood flow, or there is a lot of scar tissue in the area of stress.

Trigger points are tender and have a pain referral pattern. Trigger points are classified into two types, latent and active. A latent trigger point transfers a pain referral pattern when touched. For example, you may feel a faint pain when you place a tennis ball between your scapula and spine because it pushes into a trigger point located in this region. Without pushing into a particular trigger point, you won’t know about its presence. A latent trigger point already exists in your body.

An active trigger point actively refers pain signals either locally or it sends pain to another location.

What causes a trigger point?

Trigger points may occur because of a number of reasons. The primary activating factors of trigger points include:

  • Trauma
  • Continual muscular contraction, overuse or strain – this can be emotional or physical (exercise or occupation are possible causes)
  • Immobility or sedentary activity – for example, a 9 to 5 desk job
  • Certain illnesses
  • Hormonal or nutritional imbalances

Secondary activating factors of triggers points include:

  • Allergies
  • Infections
  • Nutritional deficiency, such as vitamin B and C and iron
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Lack of oxygenation in the tissues

Why are trigger points a cause for concern?

Trigger points should be taken care of primarily because they hurt. Any region of the body that hurts will affect your daily performance, whether at work or at home. This results in dysfunctions in your body and the development of more trigger points. Moreover, physical pain can affect you psychologically as well and cause stress and anxiety.

Diagnosis and treatment

Trigger points are typically diagnosed by examining the signs and symptoms, as well as the pain patterns and manual palpation. However, this is often the first mode of diagnosis.

Treatment primarily depends on identifying the trigger points first and then resolving them. Once the trigger points have been deactivated, the muscles and affected structures are elongated and a physical therapist will help you regain your flexibility and enhance your range of motion. Massage is also a part of manual treatment.

Manual therapy requires a skilled therapist. If a trigger point is not pressed long enough, it may either activate or persist longer. If it is pressed too hard or for too long, the affected region may get irritated or bruised, which will take 1 to 3 days to heal with treatment. The pain often feels like delayed onset muscle soreness (the pain you feel after a grueling exercise session) but both are not the same.


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