Common cause of pain
Latent (pain free) trigger points are the tender spots in tight muscle you don’t know you have until a masseur presses upon them causing shooting pain. Research done in Melbourne Australia found that even without experiencing any pain most adults have them in their shoulders muscles. If these worsen or become aggravated these pain free trigger points can become active (pain producing). As show in a previous summary active trigger points are an extremely common and often undiagnosed cause of long term shoulder pain.
Long term injury and damage
Apart from potentially becoming active and pain producing the research found that the latent (pain free) trigger points have another very sinister effect that can indirectly cause pain They increase the risk of injury and cause rapid wear and deterioration of the joints. They do this by altering the nervous system's control of muscles. Normally muscles work together in a synchronised manner to produce smooth efficient movement with no abnormal stress on tissues and pressure on joints. Latent trigger points change this so muscles become uncoordinated, producing movement analogous to a car with wheels out of alignment and out of balance. As an example, with normal control the joint surfaces move across each other evenly, and there is no impingement. When latent trigger points alter the control the pressure on the joint surfaces becomes uneven and there is the risk of creating impingements of various soft tissue structures.
The good news
The positive news is that when the researchers treated the trigger points the nervous system’s control of the muscles reverted back to normal.
This research has many serious clinical implications. These will be mentioned briefly below, and dealt with more completely in future research summaries.
Trigger point assessment and treatment should be considered for shoulder pain
It has been shown the latent trigger points can cause shoulder pain directly by becoming aggravated, or indirectly by changing the shoulder function resulting in impingements, uneven joint pressure and so forth. They should be considered in cases of shoulder pain.
The prescription of exercises alone to correct pain syndromes should be seriously re-considered
Patients are often given exercises alone to remedy shoulder and other pain syndromes. Research has shown that trigger pointss are highly likely to be involved. This study showed they caused the nervous system to produce movements that were abnormal and detrimental. These patterns cannot be corrected by instructing patients to perform exercises correctly. During exercise movements will likely continue to be abnormal and detrimental. This research indicates that trigger point therapy should be done concurrently to normalise neurological control.
Regular screening and treatment of trigger points Trigger point therapy should be considered.
Regular soft tissue therapy or a regular massage would arguably find and deminish latent trigger points, thus preventing them from becoming active (painful) and causing abnormal function.
Everone using a gym or exercising should be regularly screened for trigger points
Joint pains, injuries and impingement syndromes are too common among those who use a gym or exercise. This research suggests that latent trigger points causing abnormal joint function would make joints and tissues far more vulnerable to these. The risks would be magnified by the increased loads placed on these joints. As shown in the research the treatment of trigger points normalises muscular control.
Implications for sports performance
Whether one swings a golf club, a tennis racquet, or shoot basketballs you want the coordination of your muscles to be normal to produce the best results.
Keeping it practical
As shown in our previous research summary the treatment of trigger points can sometimes quickly relieve pain. However, complete removal requires a course of therapy over a considerable length of time, making it unaffordable for many. This summary discusses the use of our massagers at home under the guidance of a professional, making this type of care affordable and practical.
For more detailed information and references please see the practitioner version of this article.
THE EFFECTS OF LATENT MYOFASCIAL TRIGGER POINTS ON MUSCLE ACTIVATION PATTERNS DURING SCAPULAR PLANE ELEVATION, by K.R. Lucas PhD.