Hunch over a computer keyboard all day and you might feel tightness in your neck. Hit two buckets of golf balls and you might feel pain in your shoulder. Sit in an awkward position for too long and you might feel tension in your back.
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Sore muscles usually feel better after a day or two of rest. But if you have recurring muscle pain — particularly in your neck, shoulders or back — and you literally can put your finger on the spot where it originates, you may have a trigger point.
‘Ouch’ marks the spot: Identifying trigger points
Trigger points are tight knots of muscle fiber that can’t relax. According to Daniel J. Leizman, MD, a specialist in Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Pain Management, trigger points are predominantly in the trapezius muscle, which stretches from the base of your skull, down to the middle of your back and over to your shoulder.
“You could have multiple trigger points in one muscle, maybe a few inches apart,” says Dr. Leizman. “Muscle often feels denser and tighter at a trigger point — more rope-like. When you push on it, pain spreads throughout the muscle area.”
De-stress your muscle
Trigger point pain is fairly common, Dr. Leizman says. Fortunately, there are some common ways to relieve it, possibly saving you a trip to the doctor.
- Rub it out. Massage the trigger point and try to loosen up those taught muscle fibers.
- Soothe the hurt. Anti-inflammatories can help wipe out muscle pain. So can a heating pad or ice pack. Yes, either temperature variation may work.
- Find the root. Try to identify what’s “stressing out” your muscle. Then correct it so the knot in your muscle can “unwind.” Maybe it’s poor posture or an awkward workspace or falling asleep in the lounge chair. “Repetitive strain can make muscle fibers seize up,” says Dr. Leizman. “Even mental stress can cause muscle tension and trigger points.”
- Get moving. Aerobic exercise is very effective at combating trigger points, says Dr. Leizman. Try jumping jacks, swimming or other arm movements that engage the muscles in your shoulders and neck. “Not only are you stretching the muscles, you’re increasing their blood supply, pumping in good nutrients and filtering out toxins,” says Dr. Leizman.
If these tips don’t relieve your neck, shoulder or back pain, and the pain interferes with your daily activities, it’s time to see a doctor.
“Sometimes physical therapy can help alleviate the trigger point. Sometimes people need a trigger point injection to relax the muscle fibers and stimulate healing,” says Dr. Leizman.
But the best treatment is preventing trigger points. Be aware of good posture and body mechanics. And find healthy ways to alleviate stress.
“Stress is a normal part of life,” says Dr. Leizman. “We all need ways to manage it well, both mentally and physically. Exercise can do that all at once.”