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Is Trigger Point Therapy Effective

Trigger point therapy is a massage technique that concentrates on sensitive, tight muscle locations known as “trigger points.” When pushed or pinched, these irritation points generate pain in the body. People get trigger points when muscles become tight and knotted from overuse, stress, or injury.

Trigger-point therapy dates back to the early 1900s. A doctor named Janet Travell noticed certain “tender spots” in muscles that seemed connected to pain in other places. 

By pressing on these spots, she could relieve the linked pain or “trigger” it – hence the name trigger points! She wrote several textbooks on trigger point therapy and myofascial pain starting in the 1940s.

In this blog, we will explore whether trigger point therapy works for relieving pain. Does applying pressure to trigger points help muscle pain, headaches, and back pain, or is it an outdated therapy? 

Read on to learn what studies say about how effective it is!

Defining Trigger Points

Trigger points are stiff knots or ropy bands that develop in muscles. They often feel like a bump or knotted muscle area that hurts when pressed. Trigger points can set when muscles get overloaded and overworked from things like sports, heavy lifting, poor posture, repetitive motions, and even stress and anxiety.

Causes of Trigger Points

Activities that strain muscles, like lifting heavy objects, typing, running long distances, and even just poor posture, put tension on muscles.

It can cause tiny injuries and areas of muscle fiber damage that get knotted up. Things like mineral deficiencies, lack of oxygen and chronic stress also play a role.

Signs You Have a Trigger Point

You may have a trigger point if you have:

  • A sore, tender knot or tight band in a muscle that hurts when pressed.
  • Pain or stiffness that keeps coming back in one area
  • Muscle stiffness and restricted range of motion
  • Pain that shoots to another body part when the knot is pressed

How Do Our Experts Apply Trigger Point Therapy?

Trigger point therapy aims to loosen tense muscle knots and alleviate discomfort. Is trigger point therapy effective? Studies have shown that trigger point therapy can successfully relieve pain. It helps about 75-90% of the time for problems like: 
  • Headaches
  • Lower back discomfort
  • Numbness or pain in the legs and arms
  • Shoulder and neck aches
  • Jaw and facial pain
Research has found trigger point massage therapy works better than:
  • Pain medication alone
  • Rest alone
  • Other passive treatments like hot packs or ultrasound
That is because trigger point therapy targets the source of pain – the knotted muscle bands. It gets right to the root cause.  Pain often goes away during or after the first treatment. However, several sessions are usually needed to relax the muscles thoroughly. During trigger point therapy at Aloha, our trigger point massage therapist, Gabriel Johnson, applies focused pressure to the trigger point using his hands, elbows or small tools. It helps “unlock” the tense muscle bands and improve blood flow. Standard trigger therapy methods he employs are:
Trigger point therapy effective

1. Compression Technique

The compression technique applies direct, sustained pressure on the trigger point using fingers, thumbs, knuckles or elbows. Dr Gabriel locates areas of tenderness in the muscle through palpation, then applies focused force to the taut muscle bands, holding for up to 2 minutes.

The pressure should elicit discomfort that mimics the patient’s complaint to ensure the correct trigger point has been targeted. Compression physically fatigues and stretches contracted sarcomeres to allow new blood flow into the ischemic area.

The sustained pressure also flushes inflammatory irritants from the muscle tissue. Over time, compression lengthens overly contracted muscle fibers and relieves neurological sensitization to eliminate pain. It requires multiple trigger point therapy sessions to inactivate the dysfunctional area fully.

2. Cross-Fiber Friction Technique

The cross-fibre friction technique uses fingers and thumbs to rub back and forth across the sensitized muscle fibers in opposing directions. Moderate to deep pressure is applied laterally across the trigger point to separate fused fibrous bands.

Friction also encourages blood flow to the region to aid healing. The micro-trauma induced sparks inflammatory and cell regeneration processes to repair and restructure scar tissue. It breaks down adhesions between fibers and allows free, easy movement.

Cross-fibre friction therapy reorganizes collagen so the muscle can glide smoothly rather than stick together, eliminating movement restrictions. This method also reduces neurological hypersensitivity signals causing referred pain in the area.

3. Trigger Point Release Technique

Trigger point release combines compression while the muscle lengthens and shortens. After our therapist locates and applies pressure onto the trigger point for a sustained period, he instructs the patient to contract slowly and then relax the affected muscle through a range of motion. The contraction expands the contracted sarcomeres against the compression.

Pressure is maintained during elongation, so fibers return to average relaxed length. Repeated muscle contraction and relaxation while under compression unwinds strained tissue and muscle knots. It allows muscle fibers to elongate and increases flexibility and mobility in the area thoroughly. Trigger point release restores the coordination of overactive muscle groups.

Compression cycles with contraction/relaxation stretch and condition the muscle spindles and intrafusal fibers for long-term relief. The pressure may hurt at first. But it helps break up knotted muscle so it can heal and rebuild properly.

method to relieve

What Are the Benefits?

Research shows trigger point therapy can:
  • Relieve muscle soreness and tightness
  • Reduce muscle tension and spasms.
  • Restore range of motion
  • Treat migraine headaches
  • Improve circulation and flexibility
  • Help prevent future trigger points from forming
The pressure and massage techniques help relax contracted muscle fibers and knots. It can provide lasting relief for chronic stiff, tight muscles and pain.
benefits of trigger point

Want to Get the Advantages of Trigger Point Therapy Too?

Schedule an appointment with us, and you'll see how quickly your muscle soreness disappears!

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What Happens During Trigger Point Therapy?

The first appointment starts with questions about your health history and pain locations. Be ready to,

  1. Point out where you feel pain or odd sensations.
  2. Assess your discomfort intensity on a scale of 1-10
  3. Say when the pain started and what makes it worse

Our therapist will press on muscles to find trigger points. He may use massage, needles, or tools to release the knots. 

The therapy can cause aching during and after visits. However, it should never produce severe or excruciating discomfort. Tell our therapist right away if a technique does not feel right.  After the treatment, expect muscle soreness for 1-2 days, like a challenging workout. Light stretching can help relieve this. Stay hydrated and rest the treated areas between visits.

Over several sessions, your range of motion improves. Pain decreases each time as the irritated spots are deactivated. After 4-6 visits, most patients see a significant difference.

Related: Reasons to consider trigger point massage?

Trigger point

The Final Words

Is trigger point therapy effective? If you have persistent discomfort or rigid, twisted muscles, therapy for trigger points may assist. It is a drug-free way to pinpoint sources of pain and tension in sore muscles.

Our trained therapist at Aloha Sports Chiropractic uses massage, compression and cross-fiber flexion to release the contracted bands causing discomfort. This kickstarts muscle healing so you can move more easily without pain or limitations. 

To start recovering today, schedule a trigger point assessment. Our skilled therapist will develop a therapeutic plan tailored to your requirements. We assist you to find the source of your pain so you can resume your active, healthy lifestyle. 

Call us to figure out how we might help you feel great!

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Dr. Craig Eymann

Musculoskeletal Injury Specialist

Dr. Craig Eymann

Musculoskeletal Injury Specialist

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