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Acupuncture for Trigger Point Pain Relief: How It Works and What To Expect

Updated: Jan 22

Pain is the most common reason people seek out acupuncture. Acupuncture can be very beneficial for pain with a myofascial origin, which means that the pain is due to dysfunction in the body's skeletal muscles (myo) and fascia. According to the Fascia Research Congress, fascia is the layer of connective tissue that forms beneath the skin to attach, enclose, and separate muscles and internal organs. There is an intricate connection between fascia and muscles. Muscle tightness and trigger points can cause myofascial pain syndrome.

What are trigger points?

According to Dr. Janet Travell, the pioneer physician in studying trigger points in myofascial pain syndrome, a trigger point is "a hyperirritable spot in skeletal muscle associated with a hypersensitive palpable nodule in a taut band. This spot is painful on compression and can give rise to characteristic referred pain, tenderness, and muscle dysfunction."

In other words, a trigger point is a painful muscle " knot" when pressed. When a muscle is stuck in a shortened and contracted state for a long time, the muscle is deprived of blood, oxygen, and nutrients, leading to muscle knots and tight bands in the muscle fibers, which cause pain. These trigger points can also refer pain to other areas of the body when they are activated.

Picture a rubber band: a "healthy rubber band has good elasticity when you stretch it. Now, let's say you put a knot in the rubber band; the rubber band loses its elasticity and stretch. Muscles are very similar. A muscle's primary function is to contract. If there is a knot in a muscle fiber, the muscle will shorten and lose its range of motion, flexibility, elasticity, and proper function.

Symptoms of trigger points

  • Referred pain is felt in a different body area from the injured or diseased muscle or organ. The pain signals are perceived in a region with a nerve supply different from the source of the pain.

  • Dull ache

  • Pain upon palpation

  • Burning or numbness locally or in extremities

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Fatigue

  • Headache

  • Ear pain, ear fullness, or tinnitus

What causes trigger points to develop?

  • Acute or chronic muscle overload or excessive muscle activity

  • Dehydration of muscles

  • Physical trauma from a sports injury, car accident, or repetitive strain injury

  • Hormonal imbalances such as estrogen, testosterone, and subclinical hypothyroidism

  • Nutritional deficiencies of B vitamins, Vitamin D, and Magnesium

  • Joint hypermobility

  • Maintaining improper posture for extended periods

  • Overuse movements such as sitting at a desk typing, driving, or playing musical instruments

  • Chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis

Acupuncture for trigger points

If any of this resonates with you, the good news is that acupuncture can effectively treat trigger points! After reviewing your medical history, I will use palpation to locate the areas of dense muscle tissue or tight bands in the muscle that cause pain when pressed. The needle will then be inserted and gently manipulated to cause an involuntary muscle fasciculation or twitch to release the muscle from a tight and contracted state to a more relaxed state. This release allows the muscle to have a better range of motion, feel more supple, restore elasticity, and alleviate myofascial pain. The release can cause some discomfort for some individuals, but I always tell patients that long-term pain reduction is worth more if they can handle a little discomfort during the treatment.

Let's look at a few examples:

If you have trigger points (marked with an x) in your upper trapezius muscle, you can experience headaches in your temples, in the back of your head, side of your head, pain in the angle of your jaw, facial pain, and pain behind the eye.

acupuncture for headaches

Below are the suboccipital muscles of the neck. They are tiny muscles underneath your skull (shown in red below in the picture on the right). If you have trigger points here, you can have temporal headaches, pain behind the eye, and neck pain.

acupuncture for headaches

Below is the sternocleidomastoid muscle located at your clavicle and sternum and runs up behind the ear. If you have trigger points here, you can have pain on top of your head, temporal headaches, frontal headaches, pain behind the ear, jaw pain, pain around the eye, facial pain, and inner ear pain or tinnitus.

acupuncture for headaches

What should you expect after a trigger point release and aftercare?

You should expect to feel sore for 24-48 hours after treatment. It will feel like the same muscle soreness after working out for the first time in a while. It is recommended to apply warmth (heating pad or Epsom salt bath) to the affected area and take it easy on the days following trigger point release. This will help reduce muscle soreness and promote circulation to the area to activate the body's healing response.

Ways to avoid trigger point development

Trigger points typically become deactivated after 4-5 acupuncture treatments. However, it's important to consider possible lifestyle causes of your trigger points, such as overuse, poor posture, and nutritional or hormonal deficiencies. If you don't fix the root cause of the problem, the trigger point will ultimately come back. Some ways to avoid trigger point development include combining physical therapy to strengthen the muscle imbalance with acupuncture. Always stretch before and after exercise. Drink water and replenish nutrients that are depleted by taking supplements or electrolytes. Use a vibrating massage gun after workouts.

Are you curious if acupuncture can help relieve your myofascial pain with trigger point release?

Schedule a free 15-minute consultation to see if acupuncture can help resolve your pain, or book online. If you have any questions, please get in touch with us.


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