How to Relieve Painful Trigger Points
Updated: Feb 11
Trigger points are short, tight bands of tissue that form in muscles and other soft tissues, resulting in painful muscle spasms that radiate through the body. You might have felt these kinds of painful muscle knots during exercise after sitting too long or sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress. When you experience trigger point pain in your arms, shoulders, back, neck, or any other part of your body, you’ll want to find relief as soon as possible. Here are some techniques to relieve pain from myofascial trigger points (commonly known as muscle knots).
What Causes Trigger Points?
If you want to treat trigger points, you need to know what causes them. Myofascial pain syndrome develops when muscles become short and contracted, pulling on their tendons and causing knots of muscle fiber called trigger points or muscle knots. Muscle contractions caused by stress, hormones (like cortisol), overuse/overworking a muscle group, or trauma (like whiplash) can lead to myofascial pain. Even muscle tension headaches are a symptom of underlying myofascial problems in other parts of your body (like your face and neck) resulting from constant contraction of those muscles.
Muscles contracted for extended periods also cause this pain. For instance, some people develop soreness while sitting at their desks at work because they slouch over with poor posture. But working out too hard can do it too. If you don’t allow your muscles adequate rest between intense workouts, they can easily become knotted up and painful in spots as well.
Since there are so many possible root causes for myofascial pain, it’s often advisable that professional chiropractic care be sought.
How Long Do Trigger Points Take to Heal?
The time it takes for trigger points to heal depends on many factors. For example, how many trigger points you have, where they are located, what caused them, and how long you’ve had them. But regardless of your situation, typically, it takes between two weeks and two months for a trigger point to resolve fully. However, it varies from person to person.
Some people will have trigger points that last longer than others because they have fibromyalgia or some other condition that can cause chronic pain issues. On average, though, 10-14 days seems to be about right for most people.
Although you might experience some relief after a few days, especially if your trigger points are new, they might not be completely resolved until well after two months have passed. For example, you could stop experiencing sharp pain and tenderness in your shoulder but still have a limited range of motion because of soreness, stiffness, or weakness in that area.
So even though you might think your trigger point is healed at this point, remember that it may take longer than expected for these issues to resolve fully. With that in mind, continuing your treatment even after you begin to feel better is essential.
What Happens When Trigger Points are Released?
When the sore, tender, and painful trigger points are pressed or squeezed by a trained healthcare professional, they release (the pressure they’re applying to nerves), and typically you’ll feel much better right away, but only for a short time before they tense again.
A less-expected response to the release of a trigger point might be referred pain. Referred pain occurs when pressure is placed on a trigger point in one part of the body, but you feel it in another area as well. For example, if you have shoulder and neck pain, but pressing on your shoulder causes relief at your neck (or vice versa), you might be experiencing referred pain.
Paresthesia is a trigger-release response during or after trigger point therapy. It feels like tingling, numbness, burning, or even electrical shock-like sensations in other parts of your body. These areas aren’t typically sore before therapy begins.
For most people, trigger-point release therapy doesn’t cause long-term problems and can help relieve your symptoms in just one session.
Painful Muscle Knots and How to Relieve Them
Trigger points (or painful muscle knots) can form in different areas of your body. Various muscle groups seem to form these knots more frequently than others, and they respond differently to different treatments. It is not uncommon to experience muscle knots in the following muscle groups:
1. Upper back muscles that form muscle knots are referred to as upper back myofascial pain syndrome. This muscle group consists of various upper back muscles, including rhomboids, trapezius, levator scapulae, and others located between the spine and shoulder blades. Trigger points can form in all of these muscles.
2. Mid-back muscles involved in scapular stabilization, such as levator scapulae, rhomboids, posterior serratus anterior, multifidus spinae, and others, can form painful trigger points.
3. Lower back muscles (including the erector spinae group) such as the longissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, piriformis, and semispinalis thoracis are often affected by knots.
4. Inner thigh muscles like obturator internus, adductor longus, and adductor brevis can be involved in painful trigger points. They are located on the lateral aspect of the thighs.
5. Quadricep muscles such as rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, or vastus intermedius can be affected by myofascial pain syndrome (trigger point). These muscles are located on anterior aspects of the thighs along with the front and inner aspects of the legs.
6. The back of thigh muscles like biceps femoris are prone to painful trigger points. Mainly located in the hips, buttocks, or thigh region, this group includes biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus.
Additional trigger points may involve lower aspects of buttocks muscle groups and sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. Muscle knots in these areas can usually be relieved by one or more of the following methods.
Place a tennis ball under the trigger point and apply pressure until the pain subsides.
Perform deep stretching exercises.
Apply heat or ice to the area.
Perform manual therapy to the trigger point.
Set a lacrosse ball on the ground and lie down on top of it, positioning your trigger point right on the ball. If you’re dealing with an especially sensitive spot, apply more pressure to it until the pain disappears.
Massage with an inflatable tube can also be effective. Fill it with water and freeze it so that the tube becomes firm from the frozen water inside of it. Place the tube on the trigger point and rub it up and down the length of the muscle.
Use a handheld massage tool to release tension in the muscles. Get a tool with multiple heads that vibrate and oscillate to help break up the muscle knots.
If you are experiencing chronic pain with no relief and believe that you may have myofascial trigger points, please consult your local chiropractor. They will perform a thorough examination and provide you with the best treatment plan for you. Chiropractors are specialized in wellness services and have the knowledge and experience in treating these painful muscle knots so that you can live a pain-free life.
Trigger Point Therapy Techniques
The three main trigger point therapy techniques are:
Dry needling is a method of acupuncture that involves a fine needle being inserted into the muscle.
Manual therapy is widely used because it’s the easiest treatment to perform on yourself at home and produces the quickest results. This may also involve a therapist using their hands to apply pressure to the affected area. Follow these steps for effective at-home manual therapy.
Assess how tender the trigger point is. If it’s too painful, do less at a time until you can tolerate more pressure.
Locate the trigger point and apply firm pressure with your fingers, knuckles, or a tool for 10-30 seconds.
If the trigger point is in the buttocks, hamstrings, or piriformis muscles, you can use a tennis ball to apply pressure and work down the knot.
If you find a trigger point in the neck, you can use a Thera Cane.
Once you’ve released the trigger point, it’s important to stretch the muscle. You can do this by gently bending and extending the joint until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Repeat the entire process 2-3 times a week. If the pain persists, consult specialists like Natural Care Chiropractic for more help.
There are many options for treatment, but your safest and most effective treatment method is with your chiropractor.