Massage Aha!

Professional therapeutic massage therapy in Kansas City, MO by Aaron Harris, BCTMB

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What is a Trigger Point?


A trigger point is a focused area in a muscle that remains constantly contracted regardless of movement. Clients often describe this as a “knot.” They are quite painful and refer pain to other predictable parts of the body. Often a client will complain of a pain in their forehead or perhaps their elbow that is really being caused be a trigger point somewhere else in the body.

Difference Between a Knot and a Trigger Point

All trigger points are knots, but not all knots are trigger points.

A true trigger point is caused by a lack of an energy molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), usually due to the result of ischemia, a lack of blood supply to the muscle. This can be the result of an injury or overuse.

A “knot” is usually the result of an adhesion, or an area in a muscle where the overlying tissue, called fascia, has become dehydrated and grips on to the muscle fibers below causing them to tense. Pain is contained to the area surrounding the knot.

Trigger points form in common, predictable locations and “refer” pain to other areas of the body in predictable ways.

For example, a common trigger point in the gluteus minimus refers pain down either the side of the leg, or down the back of the leg mimicking sciatica.

Trigger Points in Gluteus Minimus
Trigger points (Xs) and the pain referral pattern (indicated in blue) in gluteus minimus.

There are two common trigger point locations in the deltoid that can radiate pain deep into the back of the shoulder and down the arm, occasionally with a tingling or numbing sensation in the elbow.

Trigger points in the deltoid
Trigger points in the deltoid that radiate pain into the back of the shoulder and/or down the arm to the elbow.

Trigger Point Therapy

For several decades sustained forceful, painful pressure was believed to be the best treatment to release a trigger point. However, as more research has been done, it was discovered that causing further blood loss to the muscle could continue the cycle of trigger point development.

The accepted treatment now consists of 30-60 gentle deep strokes per minute to increase circulation and break the ischemic cycle.

I have extensive knowledge of the location of most common trigger points and their pain referral patterns. During your mobile massage therapy session, I am constantly assessing your musculature and identifying and treating any potential trigger points that you may have.

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