Thursday 26th January, 2023

The effects of trigger points on sports and athletics performance

Track and field athlete
(Myofascial) trigger points are probably the biggest cause of impaired sports and athletic performance

There are many articles that list factors that effect sports and athletic performance, but almost all neglect (myofascial) trigger points. Almost every sports person/athlete has these and they are scientifically proven to cause a reduction in strength, rapid fatigue, and alterations in neurological control that effects timing and coordination.

In this article we will share with you what trigger points are and how they affect you. To eliminate trigger points there are many forms of therapy, but these can be expensive, involve needles or pain, and are not really that effective long term. However, there is a safe effective therapy you can easily apply yourself, so we’ll finish by showing you how to get started doing this.

What are trigger points

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

(Myofascial) Trigger points are those tender lumps in your muscles that shoot pain when pressed upon. Simply speaking they are part of your muscle that has gone into spasm or cramped and will not let go. As a result of this:

  1. Your muscle will shorten and tighten.
  2. The tightness restricts blood flow, resulting in a build up of waste products plus a lack of oxygen and nutrients.
  3. The spasm or cramp is a muscle contraction, which means that your muscle is constantly working and becomes fatigued.

For more information about trigger points please see our article Your complete guide to (myofascial) trigger points

How trigger points affect your muscles and Nervous system

The affect on your muscles

Abnormal tightness

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.
Functional rehabilitation
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

Resource for fitness professionals

Please check out our video guide for fitness professionals.


Huang, L.-L. et al. (2022) ‘Effects of Upper Trapezius Myofascial Trigger Points on Scapular Kinematics and Muscle Activation in Overhead Athletes’, Journal of Human Kinetics, 84(1), pp. 32–42.
Ibarra, J.M. et al. (2011) ‘Latent myofascial trigger points are associated with an increased antagonistic muscle activity during agonist muscle contraction’, Journal of Pain, 12(12), pp. 1282–1288. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2011.09.005.
Lucas, K.R., Rich, P.A. and Polus, B.I. (2007) ‘the Effects of Latent Myofascial Trigger Points on Muscle Activation Patterns During Scapular Plane Elevation’, Jclb, 25(8), pp. 765–770. Available at:
Lucas, K.R., Rich, P.A. and Polus, B.I. (2008) ‘How common are latent myofascial trigger points in the scapular positioning muscles?’, Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain, 16(4), pp. 279–286. doi:10.1080/10582450802479800.
ÖZTÜRK, Ö. et al. (2022) ‘Myotonometric Evaluation of Latent Myofascial Trigger Points and Taut Band in Elite Athletes’, Journal of Basic and Clinical Health Sciences, (1), pp. 408–414.
Yassin, M. et al. (2015) ‘Arm Flexion Influence on Muscle Reaction Time in Females with Active Myofascial Trigger Point’, British Journal of Applied Science & Technology, 11(1), pp. 1–9.

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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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