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Trigger Point Pain

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What is a trigger point?

A trigger point is also called a muscle knot. It is a tight lump in a muscle that can cause pain.

What causes a trigger point?

A trigger point may form after muscle injury, overuse, stress, or tension. Muscle stress may be from poor posture or an awkward sleep position. Emotional stress can make you tense certain muscles, such as in your neck.

What are the signs and symptoms of trigger points?

  • Pain that may be constant or only during movement or when the trigger point is pressed
  • Pain that spreads or happens in another area (called referred pain)
  • Problems moving a joint as far as it can go because the trigger point shortened a nearby muscle
  • Muscle weakness
  • Feeling dizzy or hearing ringing in your ears
  • Red skin over the trigger point
  • Skin that tingles or is sensitive to the touch
  • More saliva or tears than usual

How is trigger point pain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you to describe your pain. You may need certain tests to rule out other conditions. Your provider will look for a hard lump in your muscle. He or she may press on or squeeze the tissue over this lump. He or she will do this to see if the muscle twitches (quick movements) and if you have any pain. You may also need tests to make sure your pain is not related to a more serious condition:

  • X-ray pictures may be used to check your bones and tissues for an injury or other problem.
  • MRI or CT scan pictures may be used to check your bones and muscles. You may be given contrast liquid to help the bones and muscles show up better in the pictures. Tell the provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with any metal objects. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How are trigger points treated?

  • A cooling substance may be sprayed on your skin over the point. This helps relax the muscle, which is then gently stretched.
  • Massage may help relax the point. Your healthcare provider will massage the muscle that contains the trigger point. He or she may also do compression therapy. He or she presses on the trigger point until the muscle relaxes. He or she will then stretch the muscle.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) uses signals to help relieve pain. Pads are placed on and around the trigger point. They may also be placed where you have referred pain. The pads are attached to a device that sends electrical signals to reduce pain.
  • Physical therapy can help relieve and prevent trigger points. A physical therapist will teach you exercises that stretch your muscles and relieve pain. Your therapist may also help you find the causes of your trigger points, such as poor posture. He or she can help you make changes to prevent more trigger points.
  • Medicines may help with pain. Medicines such as ibuprofen may be suggested by your provider. He or she may also prescribe muscle relaxers.
  • A trigger point injection helps relax the trigger point. A needle is put through your skin and into the trigger point. Saline (salt solution), pain relievers, or other medicines may be pushed through the needle into the trigger point. A dry needle (no medicine) may be used. When the needle is removed, the muscle area is gently stretched.

How can I manage trigger point pain?

  • Do regular stretches of the trigger point muscle. Place gentle pressure on the trigger point, and then stretch the muscle. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about how to stretch and apply pressure.
  • Apply heat to trigger point sites. Heat can help relax muscles and relieve trigger point pain. Use a heat pack or a heating pad set on low. Apply heat for 15 minutes every hour, or as directed.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have new or worsening pain around the trigger point.
  • You have questions or concerns about your trigger point pain.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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