What is a Trigger Point?
A trigger point is a small “knot,” or inflamed tight ball, that forms within the fibers of a muscle. A trigger point is different from a sore or tight muscle because of its relative small size and being localized in the muscle’s fascia. It is usually tender and painful when pressed on. Trigger points can also cause myofascial pain or referred pain, which is pain that travels to a separate area of the body. For example, trigger points on the neck and shoulders can translate to headaches or even toothaches.
What Causes a Trigger Point?
Trigger points are caused by a muscle that is strained, injured, or overused for long periods. These fibers become inflamed and irritated.
The “knots” that result are spots with increased contraction. Because of the tight contraction of these fibers, blood flow will be restricted. There is a limitation for the capillaries to normally deliver oxygen and nutrients. Metabolic waste like lactic acid then builds up and can’t be transported out of the muscles, which results in inflammation and pain.
Many people have trigger points that develop over months or years of lifestyle habits that involve clenching, grinding, and incorrect postural alignment. With misalignment, some muscles take on extra work and become subject to strain, leading to painful trigger points. These chronic pain issues can be connected to lower back pain, shoulder pain, headaches, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (jaw pain).
Trigger Point Therapy
Releasing a trigger point means softening the hardened, inflamed tissue by compressing and penetrating the contracted fibers. Think of it as a super-deep tissue massage. Some practitioners use a trigger point injection in which a needle is filled with anesthetic to access the localized “knot”. This needle can sometimes lead to bleeding of the site afterwards.
Dr. Lee uses a special needle that is much thinner with practically no bleeding whatsoever, while still getting the same results.
The Benefits of Trigger Point Therapy
The purpose is to allow fluids to re-enter the site to heal the tissue and restore mobility. By restoring blood flow in a trigger point’s localized area of contraction, trigger point therapy helps re-open closed capillaries and improve overall circulation.
Healing the fibers through trigger point release therapy helps lubricate your muscles that are stiff, improving your range of motion.
It also encourages your parasympathetic nervous system to take over as opposed to your sympathetic nervous system which deals with your “fight or flight” mode. Trigger point release is shown in studies to increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, causing quicker recovery in cases of pain.
While trigger point release therapy sounds like you can switch off your trigger points with the push of a button, trigger point therapy isn’t an instant fix. It still involves proper management: stretching, exercising, and protection of the TMJ to achieve full recovery.