What Are Trigger Points and What Causes Them?
A myofascial trigger point is an irritable spot within a taught band of skeletal muscle, ligament or fascia (thin connective tissue that surrounds muscles and organs).
Trigger points often exhibit referred pain. This is pain that is felt in a separate area from the site that is believed to cause the pain. For example, a trigger point in your shoulder might refer pain down into the rest of your arm.
The predictability of these patterns allows an experienced massage therapist to work backwards from the location that you’re feeling pain to the site of the trigger point.
What’s the difference between an active and latent trigger point?
Research has identified two different types of trigger points: active and latent. Active trigger points produce pain constantly or during movement, and can reduce the flexibility of muscles, while latent trigger points are only painful when they’re compressed.
Both active and latent trigger points can result in referred pain, but as latent trigger points are only painful when touched, they can go undiscovered and untreated for months or even years.
What causes trigger points?
Understanding, diagnosing and locating trigger points is an essential part of effective sports massage, but how they occur and why is still not fully understood.
There are a few theories about what causes trigger points:
One theory suggests that active trigger points develop through overuse of the affected tissue, putting more athletic populations at risk. Latent trigger points, meanwhile, are suggested to develop in underused tissue, making them more likely to occur in people who are sedentary.
It’s also believed that the taut bands of tissue that cause trigger points are contracted muscle fibres that were previously damaged due to trauma. They may be an area of increased metabolism and decreased circulation.
Many factors have been found to increase the likelihood of painful trigger points, such as muscle constriction, stress, poor diet, metabolic diseases and excessive exercise without adequate rest.
Why you should never ignore trigger points.
If you have a highly irritated active trigger point, it’s going to be hard for you to ignore it. But we all know people who stubbornly live with their pain – or you might be one yourself. If left untreated, trigger points can cause further physical problems and pain.
The taut bands of tissue in trigger points can restrict movement in the affected muscle. Over time, this muscle can become tight and weak, preventing you from moving with a full range of strength and motion, leading to imbalances and increased risk of injury.
Painful trigger points can also result in muscle underuse through pain avoidance. You need to move to remain healthy and strong, but if you’re in pain, then you will likely avoid moving the affected area.
You may also develop compensatory movement patterns where other parts of your body are working harder to support the painful area during movement.
Latent trigger points, on the other hand, are easily missed. If you’ve ever had a massage and felt certain areas are abnormally sensitive when touched, these may be latent trigger points, which is especially likely if the pain is only produced on one side.
But just because they’re not painful all the time doesn’t mean you can ignore latent trigger points. Healthy tissue shouldn’t be painful to the touch, and an experienced massage therapist will be able to tell you if any pain you experience during a massage is beyond what’s expected.
Latent trigger points can suddenly develop into active trigger points, at which stage they’re much more difficult to treat due to the high sensitivity of the area. It’s much better to treat trigger points in their latent stage than wait for them to develop into something more painful.
The best way to diagnose and prevent trigger points is to have a regular sports massage. You can book yours now by calling 020 7937 1628 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also read my five tips on how to prevent painful trigger points by clicking here.
Maggie Perez Claiden – Massage Therapist
Visit West London Physiotherapy for world-class sports massage.