Trigger Point Injections: What They Are and How They’re Used For Pain Relief
Chronic pain that interferes with quality of life and everyday functioning affects millions of Americans each year. Fortunately, years of medical research have revealed a variety of effective pain relief techniques that can help people live pain-free (or at least close to it). Today, we’ll take a closer look at one pain management method – trigger point injections – and see how they can be an effective pain management tool.
What Is A Trigger Point?
Before we dive deeper into the topic of trigger point injections and how they’re used, let’s first define ‘trigger point’. The formal definition given by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) is “a discrete, focal, hyperirritable spot located in a taut band of skeletal muscle.” In layman’s terms, a trigger point is what most people refer to as a muscle ‘knot’ – what feels like a painful ball of tissue under your fingers when you massage a sore muscle.
Trigger points often result from repetitive muscle use or using the muscle in ways to which the body has not yet become accustomed. When muscles are under constant tension and don’t fully relax, ‘knots’ form, and pain can be felt in that area or even referred to other areas of the body through neural pathways.
What are Trigger Point Injections and How Do They Work?
Some trigger points go away on their own as the muscle relaxes and returns to its former condition. Others persist, however, and can cause pain significant enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living. In this case, your doctor or chiropractor may recommend a trigger point injection for pain management.
Trigger point injections are given right in your health practitioner’s office and typically take only a few minutes. If multiple trigger point areas exist, your doctor may do multiple injections to treat them all in one visit. The process involves inserting a medication-filled needle into the trigger point. Pain relief is achieved by blocking pain receptors, reducing inflammation, or promoting muscle relaxation, depending on which type of medication is inserted via the needle.
Common medications used in trigger point injections include:
- Local anesthetics – The purpose of using this type of medication is to reduce pain by blocking muscle pain receptors.
- Corticosteroids – This type of medication helps reduce pain by reducing muscle and connective tissue inflammation.
- Botulinum Toxin A – Commonly known as Botox, this type of medication prevents muscle contractions and thereby promotes pain relief through muscle relaxation.
What Types of Conditions Can Trigger Point Injections Treat?
Trigger point injections can be an effective tool for treating pain caused by a variety of musculoskeletal or nervous system conditions. Some examples include:
- Myofascial Pain Syndrome – Individuals with myofascial pain suffer from chronic pain due to trigger points that can cause localized and referred pain. Research continues to investigate the effective treatment of this syndrome with trigger point injections. At this point, however, medical practitioners believe that such injections can offer pain relief by interfering with the neural pathways that cause pain to be referred to other parts of the body.
- Fibromyalgia – This is an uncomfortable condition that often includes such symptoms as whole-body pain and stiffness, digestive issues, headaches, fatigue, and numbness and tingling in the hands or feet. Individuals with this condition often have systemic pain and may experience some pain relief via trigger point injections.
- Migraine and Tension Headaches – Not every migraine or other headache arises due to muscle tension. However, it is common for head, neck, and shoulder muscles to become tight through repetitive use or postural issues. Pain is often felt as a headache and for some individuals, trigger point injections can be a valuable pain management tool.
When Are Trigger Point Injections Used For Pain Management?
For most people, injections are used when other pain management techniques have failed or offered little relief. For example, if you continue to have pain after using pain medication or receiving physical therapy or chiropractic care, your doctor may recommend injections as another treatment option.
Are There Any Risks Associated With Trigger Point Injections?
Fortunately, injections such as this come with very few inherent risks or contraindications. Most people are able to use their affected muscle right away and simply avoid strenuous activity for a couple of days following treatment.
Trigger point injections may not be advisable if you:
- Have an extreme fear of needles
- Are allergic to the medication used in the injection
- Have a bleeding disorder or infection
- Have just experienced acute muscle trauma
Please consult with your healthcare practitioner to discuss any questions you may have regarding injections as a pain management tool for your specific condition.