Trigger Point Therapy
Trigger point therapy is a bodywork technique that involves the
application of pressure to tender muscle tissue in order to relieve pain
and dysfunction in other parts of the body. It may also be called
myofascial (myo meaning muscle, fascial meaning connective tissue)
trigger point therapy. Trigger point therapy is sometimes regarded as
one of a group of treatment aproaches called neuromuscular therapy or
NMT. Myotherapy, developed by Bonnie Prudden, is a related type of
trigger point therapy.
Trigger point therapy was developed by Dr. Janet Travell in the United
States in the 1940s; she is credited with having first used the phrase
"trigger point" in print in 1942. Through her work and events in her
personal life, Travell advanced the theory that pain experienced in one
part of the body is actually caused by an injury or dysfunction in another
part of the body. Ultimately, she mapped what she termed the body's
trigger points and the manner in which pain radiates to the rest of the
body. Travell's work came to national attention when she treated
President John F. Kennedy for his back pain.
Trigger point therapy is said to interrupt the neural signals that cause
both the trigger point and the pain. The object is to eliminate pain and to
reeducate the muscles into pain-free habits. In this manner, the swelling
and stiffness of neuromuscular pain is reduced, range of motion is
increased, and flexibility and coordination are improved. The therapy can
also relieve tension and improve circulation.
The list of conditions that benefit from trigger point therapy include
arthritis; carpal tunnel syndrome; chronic pain in the back, knees, and
shoulders; headaches; menstrual cramps; multiple sclerosis; muscle
spasms, tension, and weakness; postoperative pain; sciatica;
temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ); tendinitis; and whiplash
Typically, a health care professional refers a patient to a trigger point
therapist. The therapist will take a history of injuries suffered,
occupations held, and sports played. He or she will ask the individual to
describe the pain and its location in detail.
The therapist will then probe the area of the coordinating trigger point. In
myotherapy, once the point is found, the therapist will apply sustained
pressure using the fingers, knuckles, or elbows for several seconds.
Pain relief is often experienced immediately. Following the pressure
treatment, the therapist will then gently stretch the muscles of the trigger
point. Finally, a series of exercises is taught to the individual to
reeducate the muscles and to prevent the pain from returning.
Workbooks are now available to help patients maximize the benefits of
trigger point therapy through self-treatment at home.