According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), one in ten Americans suffer from at least one chronic musculoskeletal disorder. This equates to approximately 23 million people in the U.S. alone. Such disorders are often accompanied by a painful condition known as myofascial trigger points. These are hard spots or “knots” formed by tight, contracted muscles or micro-nodules that impact a small area of muscle tissue. When a person has several trigger points, this is referred to as myofascial pain syndrome. Trigger points are fairly common in our bodies and tend to be in abundance around areas of injury. They can also be a primary source of neck and back pain because they can cause an abnormal response to pain stimuli (hyperirritability).
Causes of Myofascial Trigger Points
Trigger points tend to form as a result of trauma to the affected muscle fibers. According to the National Association of Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists (NAMTPT), stress and injuries are the top two major causes of trigger points. Other causes of trigger points include repetitive overuse injuries, poor posture, heavy lifting, inactivity for an extended period of time and clenching the muscles when stressed.
Trigger points can be incredibly painful and may also contribute to “referred pain”; that is, pain that is experienced in other parts of the body. This is because our soft tissues are connected throughout the body by interconnected fascia, which sits below the skin and stabilizes, covers, attaches and separates muscles, nerves, blood vessels and organs from one another. It is through this connection that pain impulses can travel to other areas of the body.
Trigger Point Therapy Treatment
Trigger point therapy entails rubbing or pressing on trigger points in an effort to release tension, pain and dysfunction throughout the body. This may be done manually with the fingers and hands or with a variety of instruments. The most appropriate method will vary from one person to the next depending upon the specific trigger points and the conditions that caused them.
Common Conditions Treated by Trigger Point Therapy
Myofascial trigger point therapy is commonly used to treat a range of musculoskeletal disorders as well as chronic pain. Patients have reported improvement for a variety of conditions, including headaches and migraines, pain from TMD (jaw joint disorders), back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica and various sports injuries.