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What Are Trigger Points?

Myofascial trigger points, or commonly known simply as trigger points, are areas of your body hypersensitive to pain. The term myofascial refers to muscle tissues (myo) and the connective tissues (fascia) in and around them. Myofascial trigger points are unique in how they affect different areas, but similar to normal trigger points by causing pain. Not only do trigger points hurt when pressure is applied to those areas, but also have a quality called “referred pain,” which means that a trigger point in one muscle can cause pain in another muscle. 

Referred Pain

Nerves are linked in incredible, complicated ways. Nerves share common nerve pathways in the spinal cord, which work to signal various parts of the body. For example, have you ever experienced pain in one area of your body but the root of your pain was elsewhere? When shoulder muscles develop trigger points, the pain you feel will often travel up your neck and into your head. This is a common example of referred pain. Another example is a myocardial infarction, or a heart attack. You may feel pain in the neck, jaw, arms, or abdomen even though the source of the pain is in your heart. 

Active trigger points in the neck and shoulder muscles frequently cause headaches or migraines. It’s easy to visualize how much pain can affect your health and function when you consider how much of the human body is made of muscle. In fact, your muscles make up 36-42% of your body weight. So if your muscles aren’t functioning properly, they often become a huge source of discomfort.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome

The nature of active trigger points typically cause pain, stiffness, and tension leading to a deteriorating quality of life. Chronic pain characterized by active trigger points is known as myofascial pain syndrome. This condition can result from a wide range of activities, but is most frequently associated with sporting injuries or overuse of a muscle in repeated ways. Common movements that can lead to myofascial pain syndrome with repeated activity include:

A trigger point, once in existence, typically goes through both active and latent phases. The active phase occurs when the trigger point is most problematic and produces debilitating pain. In fact, the pain you feel weakens the muscle within, resulting in limited flexibility. The referred pain can range from a dull, aching pain, to a burning sensation and feelings of numbness. Other symptoms include sweating, watery eyes, goosebumps, dizziness, and extreme fatigue. Latent trigger points, on the other hand, are famous for hiding themselves for years before they begin to cause pain. In fact, you probably would never notice a latent trigger point unless you press on the point and feel sensitive to the pressure you exert. This type of trigger point is extremely common and can hang around for years after recovery from an injury. Despite not being as painful as active trigger points, latent trigger points cause distorted muscle movements, stiffness, or weakness of affected muscles. 

Your New Hampshire pain providers at Pain Specialty Group are available to help your treatment for trigger points, or myofascial trigger points. Dr. Anh Ngo, MD, is a highly skilled pain management specialist who is among the top physicians in the state that focuses on debilitating pain conditions. Schedule your appointment today here.

Author
Aidan Fisher, Maureen Cassidy Pain Specialty Group

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