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Trigger Point Therapy

What You Need to Know About Trigger Point Therapy

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Updated June 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Trigger point therapy is an alternative therapy that focuses on detecting and releasing trigger points. Located in the skeletal muscle, trigger points are spots that produce pain when compressed. In many cases, trigger points form as a result of trauma to the muscle fibers.

Typically used to treat pain-related conditions, trigger point therapy is sometimes referred to as myofascial trigger point therapy or neuromuscular therapy. A number of techniques can be used to release trigger points, including massage therapy, chiropractic care, and dry needling.

Uses for Trigger Point Therapy

Trigger point therapy is used to treat a number of chronic pain conditions, including:

 

 

In addition, some people use trigger point therapy as a treatment for osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tinnitus, migraines, sciatica, and sports injuries.

Trigger Point Therapy vs. Traditional Acupuncture

One common form of trigger point therapy is dry needling, a technique that involves inserting a needle (without medication or injection) into trigger points. Dry needling should not be confused with traditional acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves using needles to stimulate points thought to connect with pathways that carry vital energy (or "chi") throughout the body.

While there is some overlap between trigger point sites and acupuncture point sites, trigger point therapy is not focused on improving the flow of chi. Furthermore, while acupuncture is used to treat a broad range of health problems, trigger point therapy is primarily used for the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders.

Benefits of Trigger Point Therapy

Here's a look at the science behind the potential health benefits of trigger point therapy:

1)  Back Pain

When used in conjunction with other therapies, dry needling may be beneficial for people with chronic low back pain. That's the finding of a 2005 research review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. However, since most of the reviewed trials were of poor quality, the review's authors note that more research is needed on the effectiveness of dry needling in treatment of low back pain.

2)  Headache

Preliminary research indicates that trigger point therapy may help manage tension headaches, according to a 2012 report from Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. However, there is currently a lack of clinical trials testing the use of trigger point therapy in treatment of tension headaches.

3)  Heel Pain

Trigger point therapy may help relieve plantar heel pain, suggests a small study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy in 2011.

For the study, 60 people with plantar heel plan were split into two groups: One group regularly performed stretching exercises, while the other group underwent trigger point therapy (in addition to following the same stretching routine as the first group). After a month, the group who received trigger point therapy showed a greater improvement in physical function and a greater decrease in pain.

4)  Parkinson's Disease

Trigger point therapy shows promise in the treatment of certain symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, according to a pilot study published in Movement Disorders in 2006.

For the study, 36 people with Parkinson's disease either received trigger point therapy or underwent a music-based relaxation therapy twice a week for four weeks. By the study's end, members of the trigger point therapy group showed greater improvement in motor function. While both groups showed modest improvement in quality of life, only members of the music relaxation group had improvements in mood and anxiety.

How to Use Trigger Point Therapy

If you're interested in undergoing trigger point therapy, consult your physician for help in finding a qualified practitioner.

Sources:

David J. Alvarez, D.O., and Pamela G. Rockwell, D.O. "Trigger Points: Diagnosis and Management." Am Fam Physician. 2002 Feb 15;65(4):653-661.

Alonso-Blanco C, de-la-Llave-Rincón AI, Fernández-de-las-Peñas C. "Muscle trigger point therapy in tension-type headache." Expert Rev Neurother. 2012 Mar;12(3):315-22.

Craig LH, Svircev A, Haber M, Juncos JL. "Controlled pilot study of the effects of neuromuscular therapy in patients with Parkinson's disease." Mov Disord. 2006 Dec;21(12):2127-33.

Furlan AD, van Tulder MW, Cherkin DC, Tsukayama H, Lao L, Koes BW, Berman BM. "Acupuncture and dry-needling for low back pain." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jan 25;(1):CD001351.

Renan-Ordine R, Alburquerque-Sendín F, de Souza DP, Cleland JA, Fernández-de-Las-Peñas C. "Effectiveness of myofascial trigger point manual therapy combined with a self-stretching protocol for the management of plantar heel pain: a randomized controlled trial." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2011 Feb;41(2):43-50.

Tough EA, White AR, Cummings TM, Richards SH, Campbell JL. "Acupuncture and dry needling in the management of myofascial trigger point pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials." Eur J Pain. 2009 Jan;13(1):3-10.

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