Muscle Trigger Points:
What They Are, Symptoms, and History

Muscle trigger points can cause you a lot of pain. Here's what they are, a bit about their history, what their symptoms are, and what aggravates them.

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And once you know that, you can get rid of them!!!

Just keep in mind that anything that stresses your muscles severely can give you trigger points. Whether you want to start weight training or try a new kind of exercise, start slowly so you don't injure yourself or create tons of trigger points.

- What Are Muscle Trigger Points? -

Muscle trigger points can cause a lot of pain if left untreated. Learn about them, and treat them.

First off, trigger points are NOTacupressure points, acupuncture points, pressure points, meridian based, etc. Trigger points are uniquely defined and not part of any traditional/folk healing paradigm.

They are patches of muscle that are unable to relax and release their contraction. The sarcomeres (muscle cells) in contraction prevent blood from entering that contracted part of the muscle, and cause pain when pressed on.[1]

Those muscle cells give off an electric current that can be measured, and you can feel heat emanating from them as a result of the metabolic activity going on in the contracted part of the muscle.[2] Trigger points are scientifically validated and physically verifiable.

Which is good, because then you can learn how to get rid of them.

There are two kinds of trigger points: latent and active. Latent trigger points are just contracted parts of muscle that give you pain only if your press on them. Active trigger points are, well, already active and causing you pain.

- Muscle Trigger Point History -

Dr. Janet G. Travell (1901-1997) was the woman who basically put trigger point therapy and the study of myofascial ('myo' refers to muscles, 'fascial' refers to the fascia, a layer of tissue that surrounds the muscles) pain on the map. She was the first to investigate the phenomenon of trigger points (muscle knots), and made the breakthrough that human muscles refer pain to other places in the body in predictable patterns.

Basically, she was awesome!

Her life's work was Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, Volumes 1 & 2, which does nothing less than present her substantial research about trigger points and catalog the pain patterns that all of the muscles in the human body have.

Dr. David G. Simons assisted Dr. Travell in her research and co-authoredMuscle Pain: Understanding Its Nature, Diagnosis and Treatment, and is possibly the most knowledgeable living person when it comes to trigger points. He's really cool too.

Both of those books are large and academic, but even if you don't read them, know that trigger point science has been around since 1943.[3] It has a solid foundation.

- What Causes Muscle Trigger Points -

Trigger points have a variety of causes, but they boil down to...

Muscle Overexertion[4]

Lifting the fridge or moving your couch when you're out of shape. Trying to get in shape again and doing way too much that first day. Any time when you exert yourself far more than you can in a healthy way, you run the risk of developing trigger points.

Repetitive Motion Muscle Abuse[5]

Moving one muscle or one muscle group the same way, over and over again, can cause muscle trigger points. Symptoms like those of tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome come from the same forehand, backhand, or typing motion, repeated. And repeated.

And repeated.

And repeated...

Odd Posture or Position[6]

If you're sleeping in a weird position, sitting at your desk while slightly twisted, habitually placing your legs in an awkward position while sitting, these eccentricities will carry over into how your muscles hold themselves. And not in good ways.

For myself, I know that if I sleep with my head propped up too high on pillows my neck muscles will be tight with trigger points when I wake up & I'll have a headache. Keeping my neck straight at night keeps me from trigger point headaches.

- Aggravating Factors -


Stress is a huge aggravating factor for trigger points. In addition to making everything generally seem worse, stress takes a very real physical toll on your body. It can activate latent trigger points, and it can make already occurring pain worse.

Insufficient Vitamins

When Dr. Travell studied people with many trigger points, she found that they were low in Vitamins B1, B6, B12, Vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.[8] Everyone was not necessarily lacking all of those, but those were reccurring ones that were under supplied.

Despite the fact that that's a long list, there is a simple solution; a good multi-vitamin. This kills all the possible trouble-making birds with one stone, and is pretty convenient. Try taking one if you have a lot of trouble with trigger points.

Fatigue, Allergens, Anything That Runs Down Your Body

Basically, anything that challenges your body makes it easier for trigger points to form. When your body is busy sending its energy to fight allergies, to keep you going through late nights, and to maintain intense work schedules, there's less chance to repair.

- Symptoms of Muscle Trigger Points -


Pain is the most prevalent and trademark trigger point symptom. Virtually any kind of muscle, joint, or body pain can be caused by these guys.

Trigger point pain is generally felt as a dull burning and ache, but can get almost infinitely worse. And trigger points can give you pain symptoms that mimic other, more serious conditions.

Another annoying aspect of their pain is referred pain. When you have an active trigger point causing you pain, the pain may not be where the trigger point in your muscle is.

For example, when I had tennis elbow pain symptoms the Supraspinatus muscle in my upper back was sending pain to my elbow. Weird, and extremely not fun, but true.

Restricted Range Of Motion

Trigger points can restrict your normal range of motion, such as in the case of a frozen shoulder. This can happen less dramatically in other joints as well.

Other Odd Bodily Sensations

Muscle trigger points can cause (but are not limited to) nausea, dizziness, postural distortions, muscle weakness, ringing in the ears, occasional loss of hearing, compressed nerves, and more.[9] These tightly contracted bits of muscle have a knack for disrupting all kinds of stuff in the body.

- Not Getting Muscle Trigger Points In The First Place -

If you're lifting weights, use an intelligent beginner weight training course. if you're doing other exercise, make your workouts just slightly more difficult each time.

Anything that stresses your muscles in new or extreme ways can give you trigger points. So try to avoid those stressors.

Oh, and be sure to sign up for the e-zine Starting Strong to get monthly strength training, exercise, and diet tips e-mailed to you - and access to the free e-book Train Smart, Eat Smart: Exercise Nutrition Hacks!

• Click here to learn more about Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and Treating Muscle Aches & Pains!


• Click here to leave 'Muscle Trigger Points: What They Are, Symptoms, & History' & go back to the Home-page!

Muscle Trigger Points: What They Are, Symptoms, & History

1. Davies, Clair. 2004. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide For Pain Relief. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. Pp. 20.
2. Ibid. Pp. 19.
3. Ibid. Pp. 15.
4. Ibid. Pp. 25-6.
5. Ibid. Pp. 29.
6. Ibid. Pp. 28.
7. Ibid. Pp. 30-1.
8. Ibid. Pp. 29-30.
9. Ibid. Pp. 22-3, 25.

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