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What is Trigger Point Therapy?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Trigger point therapy is a type of massage therapy that addresses stabbing muscle pains which can occur at various points in the body called trigger points. Trigger point therapy is related to myofascial release, another type of massage therapy which addresses muscle tension and release, although this type of therapy tends to be more invasive. Trigger point therapy often has positive benefits for sufferers from chronic pain, because the therapy aims to eliminate painful areas, rather than treating surface tension or inflammation.

Trigger point therapy operates under the principle that waste products from the body tend to accumulate around nerve clusters. If allowed to, these waste products will form a nodule or band which can be felt in the tissue, putting pressure on the nerve cluster. The formation is called a trigger point, as stress on the muscle can cause the trigger point to activate, sometime causing an intensely sharp pain. This type of therapy seeks out and destroys these nodules to help eliminate pain.

Often, pain is not near the trigger point site, because the trigger point acts on a nerve. For example, a pain in the ankle may be the result of a trigger point in the knee which is putting pressure on the nerves of the ankle as they travel up the leg. The brain has difficulty interpreting the sensation, relaying it only as a pain in the ankle. Patients with chronic unexplained pain may be experiencing trigger points, and may want to consider trigger point therapy as a supplement to their treatment.

Trigger points cause increased muscle tension, muscle shortening, tingling feelings, numbness, sharp stabbing pains, and can sometimes lead to nausea and disturbances in equilibrium. An active trigger point is a trigger point which is causing pain, while a latent trigger point accumulates in the muscle, and will be released by future stress, tension, or unusual movement.

Trigger point therapy can sometimes be associated with brief pain as the trigger point is broken up and distributed into the body for re-absorption. For this reason, it is important to choose a highly qualified therapist who will not cause permanent tissue damage while performing this therapy. Clients may experience muscle soreness for several days after a therapy session, and should stretch frequently to prevent muscles from contracting. Lingering pain or numbness is an indicator that something is wrong, and should be addressed by a doctor. Clients should always consult their personal physicians before beginning a course of massage therapy, to ensure that massage is not contraindicated for their health.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By golf07 — On Oct 04, 2012

Every so often I get stabbing pains in my feet and my knees. I don't know if this is from arthritis or something else is causing the pain. It comes and goes at random and I have never had any kind of treatment for it.

I wonder if something like trigger point therapy would work for something like this. The pain isn't chronic and doesn't last very long, but it is becoming more frequent.

I think this type of therapy can be really effective along with therapeutic massage. I get a deep tissue massage as often as I can and this helps with my arthritis symptoms and my joints feel better for awhile after the treatment.

By andee — On Oct 03, 2012

I had some chiropractic therapy that was similar to trigger point therapy for chronic pain, but didn't get the results I was hoping for. After the first few treatments I felt like I was better, but then didn't notice any difference.

I went every 2 weeks for a few months, but once it stopped working I decided to quit spending my time and money on it. I have a friend who has had good results, but it just didn't seem to make any difference for the type of pain I was having.

By LisaLou — On Oct 03, 2012

I have also had good results with myofascial therapy for frequent headaches. The doctor I see works on both my spine and my neck to help relieve tension.

When she is working on my spine, she can easily tell which points are very painful to touch. When she puts pressure on them, it hurts for a little bit, but then gradually fades away. I always feel so much better when I am done with a treatment.

I don't understand how it all works, but the work on my spine helps with my headaches. She also works on my neck and when she puts pressure on the back of my neck, I can just feel the pain instantly leave my body.

Since I have had such good results, I have referred several of my friends to her. I am a big fan of trigger point therapy as long as you see someone who really knows what they are doing and does it right.

By John57 — On Oct 02, 2012

After my daughter was in a car accident she started having a lot of chronic pain. Even after going through physical therapy, she still had a lot of pain that made it miserable for her to get through the day.

As she was looking for some alternatives she came across someone who did trigger point therapy along with deep tissue massage therapy. I don't think she was really expecting it to make a difference, but she has seen positive results.

The pain has diminished a lot, and she is hoping after continued treatments it will disappear all together.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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