In addition to primary trigger points, two other forms of these pain-referring points are also possible:
Secondary and satellite.
Both of these types can help us sort out an otherwise bewildering assortment of pain and symptoms in the body.
A secondary trigger point can arise due to muscular compensation. For example, let’s say I sit a lot for my job and this results in a primary trigger point developing in my right iliopsoas muscle. Because the iliopsoas muscle is the primary hip flexor used to raise my leg in walking, it may be painful to take a step with my right leg.
In order to be able to take a step with less pain, my body might make an adjustment when I take that step. One common adjustment is to externally rotate the leg slightly just prior lifting the leg. This takes some stress off the iliopsoas and transfers it to the adductor muscles located in the inner thigh.
But the adductor muscles are not designed for this job and so can easily become overworked making them chronically tired and sore. Repeated use of tired and sore muscles can cause a trigger point to develop in them. Thus, a trigger point could develop in one of the adductor muscles. That would be called a secondary trigger point.
It’s also worth noting that in this example all or most of my symptoms might reside in the inner thigh, in the adductor muscles. While the main problem remains in the iliopsoas, the source of the primary trigger point, the loudest symptoms could be elsewhere.
A satellite trigger point can arise when the referral zone of a primary trigger point has itself become ischemic.
For example, let’s say I have a job that causes me to be hunched over much of the day. A hunched over physical posture in which the shoulders are continually rounded forward can exert strain on the infraspinatus muscle (the middle muscle of the shoulder’s rotator cuff).
Such continuous strain could cause the development of a primary trigger point in the infraspinatus. It is not uncommon for a trigger point in the infraspinatus to refer sensation to the front of the shoulder. Should this issue go untreated for a period of time the front of the shoulder might itself become ischemic.
Then any of the muscles or tendons located at the front of the shoulder could develop its own trigger point. This, then, would be a satellite trigger point. A frequent satellite trigger point of the infraspinatus muscle is the tendons of biceps muscle.
In this example an individual might have chronically rounded shoulders, develop a trigger point in the infraspinatus, but not experience symptoms in that rotator cuff muscle. All symptoms might be in the front of the shoulder compounded by 1) the referral sensation from the infraspinatus and also 2) the new satellite trigger point in the biceps tendons.
The good news about trigger points is that they are very treatable. Three effective treatment strategies include:
Various types of massage and bodywork can be very effective in interrupting and eliminating trigger points. Compression, kneading, stroking, & myofascial release of muscles and their fascia are all effective methods.
In my private practice my preferred method is a technique called Neuromuscular Massage Technique. What the distinguishes this type of hands-on therapy is the use of a single direction stroke and also determining the client’s direction of stroke preference.
This tells the therapist the most calming stroke direction for the muscle. The most calming stroke direction will achieve the fastest positive results.
Also see Trigger Point Massage Therapy.
Stretching out muscles that contain trigger points can often contribute to the elimination if these points and their referral patterns. However, if a trigger point has been active for a significant period of time the muscle may require manual therapy before stretching is effective.
The reason for this is that a muscle containing an active trigger point can neither lengthen nor contract fully. This is also why you cannot strengthen muscles with trigger points.
Also I have found that Active Isolated Stretching is vastly superior to static stretching, especially in cases of very tight, very stubborn muscles.
Just as cold reduces inflammation in muscles, cold can also alleviate trigger points. A technique described in Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual is the use of something called vapocoolant spray.
But more recently ice has replaced such sprays. A simple ice method is to place a tongue depressor in a cup of water then freeze it. This creates a kind of ice popsicle that can then be used to stroke the muscle containing the active trigger point.
Stroking the muscle with 3-5 sweeps in one direction is typically adequate.
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