What are Trigger Points?

A trigger point (TrP) can be described as a hyper-irritable spot in a muscle that refers a sensation (such as pain or weakness) to another area.

For example, a trigger point in your upper trapezius muscle may cause a referral pattern into the side of the head, behind the ear (as per image).

The spot will be painful on direct compression and cause a specific referred pain pattern.  They may be singular or multiple.


Active TrP’s are symptomatic at rest – they cause pain spontaneously.  TrP pain is often described as dull, aching and naggging.


Latent TrP’s do not cause spontaneous pain, but may restrict movement or cause muscle weakness.  Latent TrP’s are only painful when directly compressed.


Trigger points are very common and can occur in any muscle in the body.  They are significant because they can do the following:

  • cause pain problems
  • complicate pain problems, and
  • mimic other pain problems

How are they caused?

The exact pathophysiology of TrP’s is still not well understood, however there is general agreement that they develop when muscles are under stress, such as:

  • recent or long-term injury
  • mechanical overload
  • lack of exercise
  • poor posture and repetitive activities
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • psychological stress and sleep disturbances

Managing your symptoms

Trigger points are tricky – but identifying one as the cause of your pain is half the battle won.  Once you know what you’re dealing with, there are various approaches such as remedial massage, physiotherapy, acupuncture and chiropractic that are worth considering.


Finding a well-trained massage therapist or other practitioner who knows the characteristic referral patterns for TrP’s is a great place to start.


Homecare may include heat-packs, ice, stretching and strengthening of the affected muscle/s, and improving lifestyle factors (sleep, stress, posture etc).




Vizniak, N. A. (2018). Muscle manual (2nd ed.). Professional Health Systems Inc.


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