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The Truth Behind Trigger Points: A Balanced Perspective

Trigger point therapy
Truth behind trigger points

In the world of sports massage therapy, trigger points are often a focal point of treatment. These hyperirritable spots in muscle tissue are commonly believed to cause pain and discomfort, and many therapists use various techniques to "release" them. However, there's an ongoing debate about the very existence of trigger points and their role in pain. This post explores both sides of the story, giving you a comprehensive understanding of the current perspectives.

Understanding Trigger Points

What Are Trigger Points?

Trigger points, often referred to as muscle knots, are palpable nodules in taut bands of muscle fibres. They can cause local pain and referred pain patterns, often resulting from muscle overuse, injury, or stress.

The Science Behind Trigger Points

  1. Motor Endplate Dysfunction: Dysfunctional motor endplates may cause excessive muscle contraction, leading to trigger points.

  2. Ischemia and Hypoxia: Reduced blood flow and oxygen supply to muscle tissue can contribute to the formation of trigger points.

  3. Central Sensitization: Chronic trigger points might involve central sensitization, where the nervous system amplifies pain signals.

Identifying and Working on Trigger Points

Clinicians identify trigger points through palpation and patient feedback. Key signs include local tenderness, referred pain, and a local twitch response when pressed.

Techniques for Managing Trigger Points

  1. Manual Therapy: Trigger point release, myofascial release, and post-isometric relaxation stretching.

  2. Instrument-Assisted Techniques: Dry needling

  3. Self-Care Strategies: Foam rolling, stretching, and strengthening exercises.

The Sceptical View

Challenges to the Concept of Trigger Points

  1. Lack of Objective Evidence: Inconsistent identification and the failure of advanced imaging techniques to detect distinct anatomical changes associated with trigger points.

  2. Pain Perception and Central Sensitization: Pain is a complex, subjective experience influenced by the central nervous system. Central sensitization might explain widespread pain without discrete muscle nodules.

  3. Placebo Effect and Therapeutic Context: The positive outcomes of trigger point therapy could be due to the placebo effect and the general benefits of touch and attention.

Reframing Treatment Approaches

  1. Focus on Evidence-Based Practices: Emphasize treatments supported by scientific evidence, such as general massage therapy, exercise, and patient education.

  2. Individualized Care: Tailor treatments to each patient’s specific symptoms and concerns, considering the biopsychosocial model of pain.

  3. Patient Education: Inform patients about the complex nature of pain and the role of the nervous system.

  4. Holistic Approach: Adopt a comprehensive approach to well-being, including stress management and lifestyle modifications.


The debate over trigger points highlights the importance of critical thinking and ongoing research in sports massage therapy. Whether you believe in the traditional concept of trigger points or lean towards the sceptical view, a balanced, evidence-based approach to pain management is essential. By considering both perspectives, therapists can provide effective and comprehensive care, ultimately helping patients achieve better outcomes.

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