There’s so much that can keep you up at night and prevent you from waking up feeling refreshed and ready to face the day: work responsibilities, family responsibilities, the next episode of the TV series you’re binge-watching. How about muscle tension? Is that keep you up at night?
Signs You’re Suffering From A Trigger Point
If you stand up for too long during the day does your lower back start to feel like it’s killing you and the pain lasts throughout the night? Or do you have to be careful to lie on your right side in bed to avoid searing pain on your left side? Or do you always seem to wake up with a crick in your neck and are unable to move your head to one side without triggering intense pain? You may be suffering from a trigger point.
This is a specific type of muscle tension that we see quite often in our patients. With a bespoke treatment plan, we’ve been able to release their pain and get them back to living happily and healthily, doing what they love. For them, that could mean getting 8 hours of pain-free sleep or getting back to tackling 8-hour hiking trails.
What Are Trigger Points and How To Tell if You Have One?
Trigger points, more commonly referred to as muscle knots, are a spot where the muscle feels really tight and often quite sensitive and painful. It can be so painful it restricts your movement which can make day-to-day life difficult, especially if it impacts your ability to work.
What’s going on in the body is that there is a tight band of skeletal muscle. The tightness and resulting pain stop you from using the muscle, which is good because it’s injured in some way and needs time to heal. The problem is that the muscle can become so tight that blood circulation to the affected area is restricted. This means all-important oxygen and nutrients can’t get to the tight band to heal the trigger point.
Usually, muscles tighten into knots in response to strain, injury, or tension. Some common causes of trigger points are:
- Muscle strain from exercise.
- Repetitive movement from manual work.
- Poor posture throughout the day.
- Stress and anxiety which causes tension in the body.
- Vitamin deficiency.
- Inactivity which weakens the muscles.
Trigger points can occur anywhere in the body but these are the muscle groups we see them most commonly in:
- The neck – either side or above the shoulders.
- The lower back.
- The hamstrings.
- The calf muscles.
Unfortunately, trigger points aren’t uncommon and they can significantly reduce the quality of life due to the intensity of symptoms and knock-on effects which negatively impact movement, function, and overall wellness.
What Are the Symptoms of Trigger Points?
The symptoms of trigger points can vary quite widely from person to person. We see some patients in immense pain while others feel very little discomfort even when pressure is put on the trigger point. Some of our patients ask for help with trigger points in the back muscles, others have trigger points in the neck muscles. Despite these variations in symptoms, there are some commonalities we see in our patients who come to us for trigger point treatment.
When evaluating a patient for trigger points, some of the common symptoms we look out for include:
- Muscle tension.
- A marble-like tight knot under the skin.
- Reduced mobility of a particular muscle.
- Disrupted sleep due to muscle pain.
- Pain at the location of the tense muscle, especially when someone presses it (this is known as a passive trigger point).
- Referred pain which is when pressure on the trigger point causes pain in another part of the body (this is known as an active trigger point).
If the pain of trigger points continues to get worse and nothing seems to fix it, it could be a sign of the chronic pain condition Myofascial Pain Syndrome. This describes ongoing pain from trigger points, “myo” meaning muscle and “fascial” being one of the tissues in the muscle.
Symptoms of myofascial pain can be confused with another chronic condition called fibromyalgia as it’s also a muscle pain disorder. The main difference is that someone suffering from Myofascial Pain Syndrome will have a few specific trigger points that can send referred pain to other parts of the body. People with fibromyalgia have widespread points of muscle sensitivity that don’t refer pain to other parts of the body.
Trigger Point Treatment
Trigger points, myofascial or not, aren’t the kind of muscle tension that should be left to ease on its own. As mentioned above, the intensity of tension in the muscle can prevent healing. There are treatments you can turn to for speedier recovery and effective tension release.
At-Home Relief From Trigger Points
While over-the-counter pain medication may be your first thought when deciding how to manage muscle tension, it doesn’t address the cause of the trigger point. A non-medicinal way to more effectively manage muscle tension is a trigger point therapy roller. Using a foam roller on trigger points will help to soothe and smooth muscle tissue. If you don’t have a trigger point therapy roller, using a tennis ball has a similar effect. Consider your posture as well. Make sure it’s not exacerbating muscle strain. A posture brace or kinesiology tape (if you don’t know how to apply this, we can help!) is useful for improving your posture day to day.
For long-term pain relief from trigger points, particularly for myofascial release treatments, consult a physical therapist, we are here to help! The trigger point therapy massage and other treatments that they are trained to give directly target the root cause of the muscle tension.
Trigger Point Release Therapy
Trigger Point Release Therapy is a manual treatment that triggers the body’s natural ability to heal muscles and release trigger points. It works by the physical therapist putting pressure on the trigger point to the extent that circulation is temporarily cut off from that part of the muscle. In response, the level of the chemical nitric oxide in the muscle rises. The body takes this as a signal to open up the small blood vessels in the muscle called microcapillaries. Opening the blood vessels increases blood flow to the pressurized part of the muscle, breaking up the trigger point.
Another trigger point treatment physical therapists use for trigger point release is dry needling. The trigger points dry needling technique involves inserting thin needles, like the ones used for acupuncture, into the tight muscle band. It releases tension by decompressing and opening up the blood vessels in the muscle. Dry needling increases blood flow and so the oxygen and nutrients reach the trigger point, releasing tension without injecting any kind of medication.
Both of these treatments are effective for myofascial pain as well. Usually, a combination of manual treatments and at-home exercises work well together to achieve swift pain relief and to help you avoid muscle tension and trigger points in the future.
The Core Wellness & Physical Therapy Trigger Point Treatment Plan
At Core Wellness & Physical Therapy, we understand there is no one-size-fits-all solution to trigger points, Myofascial Pain Syndrome, or any other type of physical pain inhibiting your wellness. For each client, we come up with a treatment plan that is personalized to your needs and lifestyle by conducting a total body evaluation and a comprehensive physical therapy diagnosis.
Our treatment plans are integrative, combining manual treatments led by our physical therapists, individualized exercise regimes, lifestyle modifications such as nutritional intake advice, and anything else we think will improve your condition and quality of life. Treatment is adapted and plans evolve as we find out how receptive you are to a specific treatment or lifestyle modification. What matters is that it works for you and supports your wellness so we can get you moving freely again.
Our physical therapy and holistic wellness clinic supports patients in Alexandria, Virginia to restore their movement, function, and overall wellness. We’d love to help you to eliminate your pain so you can move, function, and live freely again. Your path to banishing muscle tension starts with an evaluation to inform your individualized trigger point treatment plan. So the sooner you book an initial consultation, the sooner we can get you on the road to recovery.
It’s more likely than not that at some point in your life, you’ll develop a trigger point caused by an injury, strain, or tension. But you don’t have to put up with the pain and mobility restriction trigger points cause. We’re here to help you release the tension so you can regain your full mobility and continue to do what you love pain-free. While at-home exercise can provide some instant relief, talk to us about manual trigger point treatments and ongoing self-care methodologies for root-cause muscle tension relief.
Move better. Function better. Feel better. Talk to one of our physical therapists now!