Have you ever spent a busy week at your desk, hunched over your keyboard as you try to meet a looming deadline? You likely went home on Friday with a nagging pain in your neck and soreness in your shoulders. If you tried a bit of self-massage, you may have found a “knot,” an especially painful area of your muscle that feels a bit more firm than the surrounding tissue. You, my friend, have a trigger point.
Trigger points are hyper-painful spots in skeletal muscles or the surrounding fascia caused by constrictions of bands or nodules of muscle tissue that restrict blood flow to the area. Here’s an infrared thermal image of a trigger point:
A trigger point can occur when a muscle is overloaded either by a one-time action, for example by lifting a heavy object, or by stressing the muscle repeatedly over time, perhaps by engaging in sports, performing job-related physical activities, or having bad posture, which puts stress on your muscles as they compensate. An unhealthy lifestyle, perhaps including a lack of exercise or sleep, or an untreated vitamin or mineral deficiency (especially C, B-complex, and iron) can also result in a trigger point.
The pain caused by a trigger point sometimes radiates or “refers” to other parts of the body. For example, a trigger point in the temporalis muscle, located on the side of your head above your ear, can cause pain that mimics a toothache. The red and orange around the white trigger point in the infrared image show areas of referred pain. These referral patterns have been mapped extensively and are used for diagnosing the existence of trigger points.
Trigger point acupuncture quickly and effectively treats muscle pain by releasing trigger points. In a typical session, a licensed acupuncturist uses palpation (hands-on touch) to locate tightness within the muscle. A hair-thin acupuncture needle is inserted and the muscle will, for a brief second, fasciculate (jump or twitch) then release (relax), allowing the area to be flooded with new blood to nourish the tired muscle and wash away the built up waste. This style of acupuncture can provide relief from musculoskeletal pain, sports injuries, repetitive strain injuries, headaches, migraines, fibromyalgia, sciatica, and trigeminal neuralgia.
Much like an intense workout, it’s normal to feel sore for one to two days after a treatment. Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated; this helps promote healing and reduces muscle soreness and discomfort. Relax afterward: continuing with the workout analogy, your muscles need time to recuperate so don’t hit the gym right after a treatment.
image by Greenpoint Thermography, LLC via http://advancedtechmedia.com/greenpoint/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Myofascial-Trigger-Point1.jpg