Trigger points are focused areas of hyperirritability in muscles which when compressed are locally tender. They are commonly referred to as knots in the muscles because that’s exactly what they feel like. They are formed by an overproduction of lactic acid which spills out of the circulation and into muscle groups, causing them to form these knots and tighten and shorten. If these trigger points are sufficiently sensitive, they may give rise to referred pain and tenderness including headaches arising from muscular tightness in the neck and shoulder areas. These trigger points are present in everyone and are often found in the shoulders, where most of us carry our stress. They may be present without causing any discomfort but may become activated if a muscle remains in a shortened position for an extended period of time. This could be when sleeping or while cradling a phone to one side while talking. They can also become activated by a viral illness which explains many of the aches and pains commonly suffered along with flu and chronic viral infections.
When a trigger point becomes active the body will normally brace against pain by adopting guarding habits which limit motion. These habits lead to recurrent or chronic episodes of pain that are dull and are accompanied by stiffness and dysfunction of the muscles involved. Eventually the muscles become weakened from disuse and one can have difficulty with certain movements. Treatment can be done by a qualified practitioner with their hands. They press down directly on the trigger points with their thumbs, or use the thumbs to follow the direction the muscle fibers travel and release the trigger points by passing directly over them with applied pressure. A practitioner may also use a tool to assist them with these techniques, or acupuncture needles inserted into the trigger points themselves can provide a slower more sustained and thereby more comfortable release which some find more comfortable than direct pressure.