All About Trigger Points

Trigger points: tiny spots on a muscle that can cause an awful lot of pain.

I talk about trigger points all the time. I love trigger points. I don’t love having them – and believe me, I’ve had whole bunch of them – but I love that they exist. They’re a simple answer to one of life’s most frustrating questions: why am I in pain?

(…and I’m talking about physical pain, obviously.)

What’s with the name? Well, a trigger is an event that causes another event. Imagine, if you will, a line of dominos. Pushing over the first domino is the trigger event. Each domino topples over, and the fall of the last domino is the final event. Do these events happen in the same place? No. The final fall might be several feet away from the trigger.

When it comes to the body, trigger points are “hyperirritable spots on the muscle fibers”. To put it simply: if you poke a trigger point, it hurts more than it should. And, like the domino metaphor implies, these trigger points can result in pain elsewhere on the body, a spill-over from the main site. This is commonly known as “referred pain”.

Take, for example, shoulder pain. It’s a common problem, especially among those who sit at a desk for long periods of time. Pain can manifest in multipie places – pain at the rotator cuff, pain at the front of the shoulder, pain at the top of the arm. Common sense would tell you that the pain stems directly from the muscles in that area. Just massage where where it hurts, and the pain will go away. Right?

Wrong. Well, the pain might go away for a while. Massage is great at providing immediate relief. But most of this shoulder pain is actually due to trigger points in the neck. If these points don’t get treated, the pain is doomed to return.

The best part about trigger points is that they run on a similar pattern in everybody. Specific trigger points will refer pain in predicable ways. Shoulder pain comes from trigger points at the front of the neck; head pain comes from trigger points at the back of the neck or the jaw. Because these points are mappable (and yes, there are “maps” available), my job as a massage therapist becomes a sort of espionage mission – find the trigger points, attack them, and make them disappear.

As you can imagine, Trigger Point therapy is not a relaxation massage. The best method to get rid of trigger points is with direct compression – pressing (softly) onto the points until they release, which usually takes multiple sessions. It requires the client to be an active participant in the treatment, both in communication during the session and in modifying activities and poor posture habits to keep the trigger points from returning.

No one should have to live in pain, especially when a solution might be as easy as a massage treatment. If you or someone you know could benefit from Trigger Point therapy, don’t hesitate to recommend it.


So now you know what trigger points are, but do you know why trigger point massage works? Find out here!

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