The medical term for muscle pain is myofascial pain syndrome (MPS). “Myo” means muscle tissue and “fascia” refers to the connective tissue supporting the muscle structure. Muscle pain occurs when the fascia covering the muscles becomes injured and inflamed. I will explain trigger point causes and what’s happening in your muscle tissue when you feel that painful twinge.
How the knots form
Muscle inflammation can be caused by repetitive strain, lack of muscle activity, or a direct muscle injury. When muscles are stressed or injured, they often form tender “trigger points” that feel like dense tight knots (they are actually muscle fibers stuck together) in the muscle tissue. Pressure on a trigger point causes the muscle fibers to try to shorten and be painful to the touch. And this can send “referred pain” radiating out to other areas of the body. For example, pressure on a trigger point in the Trapezius at the top of your shoulder can refer pain up the side of your neck and head, triggering headache pain. In addition to pressure, activity, and stress can also aggravate trigger point pain.
Categories of trigger points
There are two types of trigger points:
An active trigger point is a knot of muscle that is extremely tender and causes local or regional referred pain.A latent trigger point generally does not cause pain unless you press on it, but has the potential to become active if aggravated by muscle overload, fatigue, illness, or stress. Latent trigger points sometimes cause muscle weakness or restricted movement.
What are some trigger point causes?
When trigger points form in our muscles, symptoms can include pain, stiffness, tension, physical limitation, and the loss of normal function. A number of factors can make us more vulnerable to the formation of trigger points. These include:
Repetitive overuse injuries caused by repeating the same movement over and over again on a daily basis.
Sustained periods of heavy lifting, including activities such as carrying a baby, walking with a briefcase, or lifting dead weight.
Habitually poor posture during computer work.
Muscle clenching and tensing caused by emotional stress.
Injuries sustained in traumatic events like a car accident, sports collision, or fall.
Inactivity such as prolonged bed rest or sitting.
Trigger point treatment and self-care tips
Massage is the ultimate treatment, of course. For self-care at home it’s best to start with heat therapy such as a hot pack or Epsom salt bath. Do some light stretching afterward followed by exploration of the painful area with a ball (tennis ball, lacrosse ball or golf ball) while lying on the ground or standing against a wall. When you find an area of tenderness, stay on that spot for at least 30 seconds before moving on. I guarantee that you will find areas that you never even knew were tender. Follow up your self-massage session with heat application.
Do you know a friend or family member that is knotty? Please share this newsletter with them.