A trigger point is defined as a contracted nodule within a taut band of muscle that is tender when pressed and tends to refer pain and other symptoms to other areas of the body. When someone says they have a “knot” in their muscle, usually they are talking about a trigger point. Trigger points can be caused either by trauma (whiplash, muscle strain, etc), repetitive overuse of a muscle, or poor posture.
Pretty much everybody will feel the effects of a trigger point at some point in life. They can be responsible for a myriad of symptoms, such as tension headaches, shoulder tendinitis, jaw pain, and even pain in the arches of the feet (plantar fasciitis).
Above I have included a picture of a common trigger point pattern. The X’s show where the trigger points are and the red shows where the pain is felt. If you have ever woken up with a stiff neck or developed a headache over your eye after working at the computer too long, you have probably had this trigger point.
If you suspect you have a trigger point and want to treat it yourself, here are the rules:
1. Use deep, short massage strokes.
2. It is normal for this to be painful, but it should not exceed a 7 out of 10 on the pain scale (10 being unbearable).
3. Only do 6-12 strokes per trigger point.
4. Repeat several times per day.
In most cases, you can use your hands, but sometimes it is easier to use a lacrosse ball against the wall, a small bouncy ball (great for feet!), or a Theracane.
A great resource for learning how to detect and treat trigger points is the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. Although written for the layperson, this book has become my bible when it comes to treating myofascial problems.
You can also find online guides at http://www.triggerpoints.net/.