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HeadWay, Issue #060 -- Trigger Point Therapy
August 21, 2008

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In this month's issue:

Introduction to Trigger Points

Join the conversation!

Say what?!  Referred Pain

Introduction to Trigger Points

We hear about trigger points all the time, from friends and family, maybe from a masseur/masseuse or chiropractor.  But there's a lot more to trigger points than just pressing a finger into a muscle.  And it's not just another folk remedy.  It's a science that has a lot of research and study behind it, and it's very likely that trigger point therapy could decrease or eliminate your pain.

What is Trigger Point Therapy?

Trigger Point therapy involves pressing something (usually a ball or special instrument) into a specific areas of a muscle.  Tender points are pressed, often thought of as knots or tight bands.  This is combined with stretching and strengthening the muscle.

Muscle knots and headache

These tender trigger points often cause pain - no surprise there.  It's well documented that they not only cause pain in the area of the knot, they also cause referred pain.  That means that, for example, trigger points in the neck and shoulder could be a factor in your headache.

Trigger points not only tense up muscles, they also activate the nervous system.  The longer a trigger point goes untreated, the worse the pain cycle can get.

Often we think of migraine triggers, for example, as filling a bathtub.  Once enough factors are in place, the tub overflows and the migraine chain reaction takes off.  Trigger points are likely a major factor here, making you more pain-sensitive and more likely to get an attack (of any kind, not just migraine).  The pain can increase tension, continuing the cycle.

Essentially, trigger points involve contractions of parts of the muscle, meaning we can't use that part of the muscle.  Healthy muscle fibres can be loose and relaxes - unhealthy ones "knot up".

Migraine and trigger points

A study in 2006 (Calandre and team) investigated migraine in particular in relation to trigger points.  The study found that over 90% of migraine patients had trigger points directly related to their migraine symptoms.  In other words, trigger points could be used to reproduce the migraine pain, showing a referred pain pattern.

This doesn't mean trigger points cause migraine.  However, they could be a major factor in migraine pain, and getting rid of them could certainly cut down on frequency and intensity of migraine attacks.

Other headaches

Tension type headaches are notoriously related to muscle and tension issues.  Again, this does not mean trigger points are a magic cure, but they could go a long way toward fighting the pain.

Cluster headaches, as is often the case, are less studied.  Still, there is reason to believe that anything that breaks the pain cycle could lead to significant improvement.

Why trigger point therapy works

In her book Trigger Point Therapy for Headaches and Migraines - Your Self-Treatment Workbook for Pain Relief, Valerie DeLaune gives the following explanation:
Massage and self-treatment of trigger points will allow muscle cells to start uptaking oxygen and nutrients and eliminating metabolic wastes again, the proper cell metabolism process.  Also, by pressing on the trigger points and making it hurt a little bit more than it's already hurting, it causes your body to release pain-masking chemicals such as endorphins, thereby breaking the pain cycle.

For more...

You may find it worth it to find a massage therapist in your area familiar with Trigger Points.  If you live in the USA, try Massage Today for recommended therapists.  In Canada, check out  In New Zealand, visit Massage New Zealand.  South Africa?  The Massage Therapy Association.  You get the idea - search for your country.

Also, I'm hoping to do a series on trigger point therapy at the Headache and Migraine News Blog, so make sure you're subscribed to the feed.

Join the conversation!

There are some great conversations going on at the Headache and Migraine News Blog!  Why not come and join the conversation?

Say what?!  Referred Pain

Referred pain happens when an unpleasant sensation comes from one part of the body and the actual problem is in another part.  Why does this happen?  It has to do with how pain signals travel through the body.  Often pain from various parts of the body can take the same "highway" to the brain.  There are common patterns to referred pain, but at times things can get complicated, especially if the patterns have continued for a long time.

Thanks for reading!  Remember, if you have feedback or ideas for future issues, visit the HeadWay MailRoom.  Your password is nomoache.
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