Trigger point pain is a condition that can affect anyone. Pressure on sensitive areas in your muscles, called trigger points, causes pain. This is most common after muscles are contracted and used in repetitive movements. Pain can be caused by doing things you love, at work, or even by stress.
If you feel pain or a dense knot in your upper back, shoulders, or neck and the pain worsens when you press on it, you probably have located a trigger point. Fortunately, there are treatment options that you can do at home.
Causes of Trigger Point Pain
Trigger point pain is caused by an activity or stimulus. Muscle tightness can set off trigger points and cause “knots” in your muscles. Things that may increase the risk of trigger point pain include:
- Muscle Injury: Acute injury or strain on the muscle can result in a trigger point. Constant repetitive motion or poor posture can increase the risk of trigger points.
- Stress: People who have frequent anxiety and stress tend to clench their muscles, and that can lead to strain, causing trigger points. Muscles that are constantly contracted are more susceptible to developing knots.
At-Home Treatments for Trigger Point Pain
To relieve pain at home, try some of these treatments and exercises to relax the muscles:
- Apply ice to reduce inflammation, especially if the pain flares up after activity. If the pain lasts and your muscles become sore, apply heat to ease tight muscles.
- Loosen the knots by massaging the trigger point. This encourages the muscle to relax.
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications help relieve muscle pain.
- Try to avoid activities that cause flare ups. If sitting at work for too long aggravates the pain, try a more ergonomic chair or take breaks to walk around and stretch.
- Reduce stress. Trigger point pain can be a direct response to mental and physical stressors.
- Include exercises that engage the neck and shoulder muscles – jumping jacks, swimming, and yoga are great ways to ease muscle tension.
Myofascial Pain Syndrome
While nearly everyone has experienced muscle tension pain, the discomfort associated with myofascial pain syndrome persists or worsens. This pain can be a more significant pain than trigger point pain and can cause difficulty sleeping.
If the pain doesn’t go away with at-home stretches and pain-relieving techniques, seeing a doctor is the best course of action.
Treatment options for myofascial pain syndrome include some form of medication, needle injections, and physical therapy. Many times, a combination of those options is effective in finding the best relief.
Doctors may prescribe medication to help relieve the pain associated with myofascial pain syndrome. They may include
- Pain Relievers: Medication like Advil, Motrin, or Aleve may help reduce pain due to trigger points.
- Antidepressants: When stress and anxiety are the root cause of the pain, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help relieve pain. They can also be used the improve sleep that is affected by pain.
Doctors may suggest trigger point injections to relieve pain. A numbing agent or steroid is injected into the trigger point. Oftentimes, the act of injecting the needle helps break up the muscle tension.
Dry needling is another technique that involves inserting a needle around the trigger point to help dissolve the knots and tension in the muscles. Myofascial pain can also be alleviated through the use of acupuncture.
A physical therapist can design a treatment plan to help reduce pain and teach exercises to prevent further pain and symptoms. This may include:
- Stretching: Gentle stretching exercises can reduce the pain in an affected area. If there is pain when stretching a numbing spray may be used, or a more gentle approach to stretching may be utilized.
- Heat: Applying heat can reduce muscle tension and reduce pain.
- Massage: Massaging the trigger points to break up the knots can be used to release the tension in the muscles. Pressure may also be applied to the muscle to relieve pain.