Wednesday 2nd February, 2022

How to release (treat) trigger points yourself

Trigger point therapy performed
In this article we show you how do do safe effective trigger point release on yourself

Treating or releasing trigger points yourself is actually extremely easy. With a bit of instruction and practice you can easily find the trigger points in your muscles, and there are three simple effective home therapies you can use: pressure techniques, pressure techniques with massage, and vibration massage.

These techniques arguably work just as well as professionally given therapies such as needles and laser, but can give better long term results because home therapies are usually able to be repeated far more often.

In this article we briefly discuss what trigger points are, then most importantly how to find them on yourself and how to do each of the therapies.


What are trigger points
The basic principles of trigger point release (therapy)
How to find your trigger points
The three safe effective home release (therapy) techniques
Trigger point release (therapy) for various parts of your body

What are trigger points

Trigger point
Trigger points are the tender lumps in your muscles therapists find

Trigger points are those tender lumps in your muscles that therapists find. Almost every adult has them, and they are arguably the biggest cause of pain such as back, neck and shoulder pain. In this article I’ll give just enough background so you can effectively treat them. For more information please see our article Your complete guide to (myofascial) trigger points.

Trigger point: positive feedback loop

What are the lumps

Trigger points are part of the muscle that have gone into spasm or cramp forming a lump. As shown in this diagram, this tightens the muscle restricting blood flow. The reduced blood flow causes a build up of waste products and a shortage of oxygen, making the area toxic. This toxicity causes the muscles to further spasm and tighten. This process causes the spasm to “lock on”. The whole process can go round and round in circles, gradually getting worse over years or even decades.

Snowball effect
Like a snowball trigger points gradually grow until they are large enough to cause pain

Trigger points grow over time

With this process going on trigger points will gradually get bigger over time, like this snowball. When they are small you don’t know they are there unless a therapist presses upon them. However, they can eventually get to the stage where they cause pain without being pressed upon.

The basic principles of trigger point release (therapy)

Disrupting the loop

As you’ve seen a trigger point is caused by spasm, reduced blood flow and a build up of toxic wastes all feeding on each other and going around in circles. There are a number of different trigger point release or therapy techniques. Each tries to disrupt this by working on one or more parts of this cycle.

Temporary relief vs elimination

If you’ve experienced trigger point release or therapy you’ll understand that the relief can be dramatic but the pain and muscle tension usually comes back. If we look at our snowball diagram again the reason is simple. Pain relieving applications of therapy just shrink the trigger point to where it is not hurting. Of course it’s still there and will gradually grow and start hurting again. This is true whether it is home therapy or professional therapies such as needles or laser.

We’ve got a lot more information about how to eliminate trigger points completely in our article Why do trigger points keep coming back. However, the key is that the therapy needs to be applied repeatedly to continue to diminish the trigger points. This is something you can easily do with home therapies.

Dr Graeme's comments

Graeme’s comments

The procedures I’ll share are safe, effective and suitable for most people. However, they may not be appropriate for some. Therefore please consider this as general information only, and seek specific advice from a professional familiar with your own needs. Although the techniques are very easy, it would also be very useful to see a professional at the start just to make sure you are finding the correct spots and doing the therapy effectively, and as discussed in Why do trigger points keep coming back, to see what else needs to be done to help eliminate your problems.

How to find your trigger points

You can use the following technique to find most of your trigger points.

Trigger point examination: general
Start with a general examination looking for tenderness and tightness

Step one

Start by using the pads of several fingers to generally examine your muscles looking for areas of tenderness and tightness.

Trigger point examination: specific
When a tight or tender spot is found examine more deeply with one or two fingers

Step two

When an area of tightness or tenderness is found use one or two fingers to examine more deeply. Looking for tightness, tenderness and lumps. Generally you will find tight bands of muscle, and if you explore along these bands you will find localized areas of tightness centred around lump. Those lumps are the trigger points. When pressed upon these will be very tender and often cause pain elsewhere.

Professional help

You’ll usually be able to find and identify a lot of the problems yourself. However, when starting it’s a good idea to get some professional help:

  • to make sure you are using the correct techniques and identifying the correct problem, and
  • to make sure you are finding all he trigger points that need attention. In particular, there are parts of your back you will be able to do therapy on, but not be able to examine yourself.

The three safe effective home release (therapy) techniques

Pressure release techniques


This technique simply involves temporarily applying pressure to the trigger points. These techniques are very commonly used, with most self trigger point releases through to most painful techniques used by professional therapists being variations of this technique. At one end of the spectrum therapists will apply extremely painful pressure and hold until it fades, then apply more pressure repeating the process. This is of course extremely painful. On the other end of the spectrum only a moderate amount of pressure is used. Clinical trials have shown the moderate pressure techniques to be very effective. For this guide I’ll show you two techniques: one you can use for muscles you can easily reach with your own hands, and another technique for where you need to use a mechanical tool to apply pressure.

Trigger point release: thumb pressure
Applying pressure to the trigger point with the thumb
Pressure with your hand

Use this technique for trigger points you can easily reach and apply pressure with using your own hands. For this technique find the trigger point, then apply moderate pressure until you feel the pain fade and the muscle relax, or to a maximum of 90 seconds.

Trigger point therapy using tool
Applying pressure to the trigger point using a tool
Pressure with a tool

For trigger points you cannot reach with your hands you can use a tool such as the trigger point cane shown to apply pressure. You are able to apply a lot more damaging pressure using a tool, so to keep you safe yet get great results we recommend you use a traditional Thai self massage technique. This has used very successfully in a clinical trial, giving great results. For each trigger point use the tool to apply moderate pressure for 10 seconds then release. Repeat this five times.

Don’t use foam rollers or balls

For reasons discussed in our article Can foam roller be harmful we recommend you don’ apply this pressure with rollers or balls. In summary, it’s not very effective and potentially dangerous because:

  • it is too easy to apply too much pressure
  • you often need to get into difficult positions which often tighten the muscle you are trying to relax.

Pressure with massage


This technique is more effective because it adds massage which helps circulate fresh blood to help flush the wastes. However, you can only use it of parts of your body you can easily reach with your hands.

Trigger point release: pressure with massage
Using the thumb to provide pressure and massage

Applying the technique

  • Start by lubricating the muscle with some form of oil. It doesn’t need to be special, just slippery.
  • Using your thumb or fingers apply pressure and move slowly along the muscle as if you are squeezing out an old sponge. Because there are one way valves in your veins and lymphatic vessels do this towards your heart. Continue using a systematic pattern to cover the whole muscle, working gradually deeper each stroke.
  • If you come to a tight spot or trigger point stop and maintain pressure for 5-10 seconds before slowly moving on. The stroking is an effective form of massage, whereas the stopping and holding pressure is an effective pressure technique.

Trigger point therapy using a vibration massager (recommended)

Trigger point release using vibration massager
Trigger point release using vibration massager (normally done clothed)

Description and usage

This is by far the easiest, safest and most effective of the home techniques, but you need a proper vibration massager. We’ve got a separate article How to use a hand held massager that gives full details, but simply speaking all you need to do is sit the head of the massager over the trigger point and let the vibrations penetrate. Properly designed vibration massagers have ergonomically designed handles to allow you reach and apply this therapy anywhere on your body.

Vibration: trigger point therapy
Vibration massage works on all the issues

Why vibration massage works

Looking back at how trigger points form we see that it involves spasm, reduced blood flow and a build up of toxic wastes basically going around in circles feeding on each other. Scientists have found that vibrations help each of these issues, so the vibrations from the massager will gradually “dissolve” the trigger points.

You will need a proper vibration massager (not a massage gun)

A proper vibration massager will do a great job, but massage guns, percussion massagers and most “consumer” massagers will not be effective and potentially harmful. For how to choose the right equipment please see our article How to choose a massager

Most were not suitable so we built our own

When we were looking for a suitable vibration massager for our patients to use all the effective machines seemed to be "professional" products for therapists to use. These were expensive and not designed for self use. Because of this we built our own that pack the effectiveness of a professional unit into an economical one for self use. They are now used, recommended and sold by over a thousand clinics across half the world (some examples). For information about these and where to get them please use these links.
The General Purpose Massager
The Ultimate Quad Head Massager

Read what professionals say about DrGraeme massagers

Using a massage gun
Massage guns are totally inappropriate for this therapy
Why not massage guns or percussion massager

We have a lot more detail on this in our article Should I get a massage gun, but in summary:

  • these work on percussion which is less effective and more dangerous,
  • massage guns do not have ergonomically designed handles, therefore cannot be used effectively on a lot of your body.

Video demonstration of trigger point therapy for shoulder muscles

Trigger point release (therapy) for various parts of your body

You should be able to use the basic examination and therapy techniques shown for most muscles of your body. To help further we’ve done articles showing specific techniques for many areas of your body.
Self massage and trigger point therapy for headaches and migraines
Massage and trigger point therapy for low back pains with self help options
Massage and trigger point therapy for calf pain, with self help options
Massage and trigger point therapy for shoulder pain with self help options
Self massage and trigger point therapy for tennis elbow
Does massage help with fibromyalgia, with self help advice

We are continually adding more information on research and uses. Subscribe below to have us email them to you "hot off the press".

Dr Graeme

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

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