How trigger points affect your muscles and Nervous system
The affect on your muscles
As previously stated the muscle contraction will cause the muscle with the trigger point to shorten and tighten. This can restrict movement, while the abnormal tension can cause issues like postural and biomechanical changes, plus extra stress where the muscles attach.
Reduced strength and rapid fatigue
Suffering from fatigue, a build up of wastes plus a lack of nutrients and oxygen, the muscle containing the trigger point will have reduced strength and fatigue faster.
Your muscle slow to act
Tests have shown that muscles in this state take longer to respond when it receives a signal from a nerve.
The affect on your nerves controlling your muscles
When some of your muscles are abnormally tight, weaker and fatigue easily, and are slow to respond your nervous system needs to compensate. When everything is working as it should hundreds of muscles work together like a symphony orchestra to do things like balance and move in such a way that is the most efficient and creates the least stress upon parts of your body such as your joints. The compensations due to trigger points will be less efficient, less accurate, and place greater stress on joints and other tissues. The easiest way to appreciate this is by sharing some examples taken from scientific studies.
Example One: study of effect of trigger points on muscle timing
In this trial people were asked to lift a weight as soon as they heard a sound signal. The scientists had sensors that detected i) how long after the sound the nerve signals were sent to the muscles, and ii) how long after the sound the weight started to lift. People with trigger points in their muscles were compared with people without trigger points.
The scientist found was that the trigger points had no effect on how fast the nerve signals were sent, but the response from the muscles in those with trigger points was much slower. A lot of sports require participants to detect a visual or sound stimulus, process the information, then have their muscles react. This research shows that if you have trigger points that reaction will be slower (Yassin et al., 2015).
Example two: study of trigger points in the calf muscles of rugby players
In this trial scientists investigated the gastrocnemius (calf) muscles in pain free elite rugby players, finding latent (not causing pain) trigger points causing abnormally tight bands of muscles. The scientists stated that these would limit activities such as vertical jumps and others requiring extension of the lower limbs. They recommended that early detection of these trigger points may also prevent possible muscle injuries (ÖZTÜRK et al., 2022).
Study three: Investigation of the activity of shoulder muscles
The scientists used needle electrodes to detect and measure the activity of various shoulder muscles during movement. They found that latent (pain free) trigger points in the muscles affected the coordination and timing. The scientists stated that this would cause:
- inefficiency of movement
- incomplete muscle relaxation following exercise, and
- disordered fine movement control.
The scientists recommended that elimination of those trigger points may improve muscle function (Ibarra et al., 2011). This was confirmed by another researcher who found similar altered neurological control due to trigger points. In this study when the trigger points were treated control went back to normal (Lucas, Rich and Polus, 2007).
Study four: Effects of upper trapezius trigger points on scapular movement in athletes
The scientists compared the scapula (shoulder blade) movement of overhead athletes with and without trigger points in their upper trapezius muscles. They found that the presence of trigger points impaired scapula movement and associated muscular activities (Huang et al., 2022).
How common are trigger points
There have been many studies that have investigated how common trigger points are. They are involved in most cases of musculoskeletal pain, but even surveys of people with no pain show very high numbers. As an example once study found that nearly 90% of adults without shoulder pain had one or more trigger points in their shoulder muscles alone (Lucas, Rich and Polus, 2008). When you consider that sports and exercise causes trigger points, and most sports people/athletes suffer some sort of pain at times, it’s a safe bet to say that an un-treated sports person/athlete will have many in his or her muscles.
People trying to correct these issues with execises
As a side issue a lot of people recognise the abnormal function that trigger points and other functional issues cause then try and correct these with exercises. While the underlying issue remains the nervous system will will continue to compensate. Instead of addressing the cause of the abnormal function these people are trying to correct compensations by creating more compensations, and at the same time training their bodies to work in totally abnormal and detrimental ways. This is very common, but ignorant and detrimental. For more information about this please see our following articles.
Do exercises help shoulder pain
How to treat trigger points
There are many different trigger point therapies. For information about the pros and cons of each and which are effective please see our article What is the best treatment for trigger points. The main thing you need to be aware of is that most therapies make you temporarily feel better so you think the problem is gone, but the trigger points are still there and when you aggravate them again the pain comes back.
As promised, there is a very safe effective therapy that you can easily do yourself. To see how to do this please see our article How to treat trigger points at home