Tuesday 14th March 2018

The relationship between latent trigger points and depression


A study published in the journal “Clinical Rheumatology” investigated the the prevalence of latent (pain free) myofascial trigger points (MTPs) in the scapular muscles of apparently healthy pain free adults, and whether they were associated with depression.  The trigger point examination found that 60% of the apparently normal people had one or more trigger points in these muscles.   When assessing for symptoms of depression they found that in general the more latent trigger points the more depression symptoms.  Those with no latent trigger points showed very few symptoms of depression, while those with five or more latent trigger points questionnaire results placed them well within the clinical depression range.

Trial details

The subjects were 76 students and health care workers who had no neck, shoulder or thoracic pain, had no surgery or physical therapy in that region, and were not undergoing psychiatric treatment. 

Muscles examined
The muscles assessed were the upper and middle trapezius, serratus anterior, and rhomboideus major and minor.  

Measurement of depression
The level of depression symptoms was assessed using a questionnaire called the Beck Depression Inventory.   When assessing the general population a score of 21 or over represents depression.

60% of subjects had one or more latent MTPs in the muscles examined.  Based on the number of latent MTPs found each subject was allocated into one of three groups:

  • Group one (30 subjects)  having no latent MTPs
  • Group two (28 subjects)  having 1-5 latent MTPs
  • Group three (18 subjects) having more than 5 MTPs

When  the average depression score for each group was calculated groups 1 and 2 scored 8 and 10.3 respectively.   However, group three scored 28.5, which is well above the clinical depression range of 21 or more.

Clinical implications

The association with depression
The research showed that in the asymptomatic people tested the higher the number of trigger points the higher the depression score tests, and visa versa.  This indicates that they go together, but not causes which. The authors confirm this unknown by stating that the relationship between latent trigger points, anxiety, stress and depression is not fully understood. 
The authors speculated that depression may be a cause of latent trigger points, and hence stress and depression management may be considered as a treatment for latent trigger points.  This may be correct. However, there are two other possibilities to consider.   Firstly, latent trigger points may somehow cause depression.  In that case trigger point therapy should be considered as a treatment for depression.  The second possibility is that there could be another issue that is a common cause of both trigger points and depression.  A hypothetical example may be that a boring job that involves repeated mundane tasks with poor ergonomics.  This could cause both trigger points and depression.

Facts we can use
The only thing that we can be certain of from this research is that latent trigger points are relatively prevalent in asymptomatic people, and that trigger points and depression tend to go together.  The practical implications from this are as follows.

  • When someone has depression (or depression symptoms) screening for trigger points should be considered.
  • If someone has a high number of trigger points an assessment for depression should be considered.
  • Due to their high prevalence and potential to cause dysfunction and chronic pain syndromes, regular screenings for trigger points seems wise.

The economics and practicalities of treating trigger points

As shown in a previous summary, the treatment of trigger points usually involves many sessions of therapy over a considerable time, which if done by professionals alone can be so time consuming and expensive as to be impractical.  The DrGraeme serious hand held massagers can be used for supplementary massage at home under professional advice, making this type of care more affordable and practical.

Samples and practitioner orders

We happily supply sample massagers to degree qualified practitioners who deal with musculoskeletal complaints, on a one per clinic basis.  Please email us directly on graeme@drgraeme.com for samples or practitioner/wholesale supply.

Çelik, D., & Mutlu, E. K. (2012). The relationship between latent trigger points and depression levels in healthy subjects. Clinical Rheumatology, 31(6), 907–911. https://doi.org/10.1007/S10067-012-1950-3

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About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and ... read more