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Myofascial trigger points: an evidence-informed review

  • Myopain Seminars
The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy
Vol. 14 No. 4 (2006), 203 - 221 Myofascial Trigger Points: An Evidence-Informed Review / 203
Myofascial Trigger Points: An Evidence-Informed Review
Address all correspondence and request for reprints to:
Jan Dommerholt
Bethesda Physiocare, Inc.
7830 Old Georgetown Road, Suite C-15
Bethesda, MD 20814-2440
This article provides a best evidence-informed review of the current scientific un-
derstanding of myofascial trigger points with regard to their etiology, pathophysiology, and
clinical implications. Evidence-informed manual therapy integrates the best available scien-
tific evidence with individual clinicians’ judgments, expertise, and clinical decision-making.
After a brief historical review, the clinical aspects of myofascial trigger points, the interrater
reliability for identifying myofascial trigger points, and several characteristic features are
discussed, including the taut band, local twitch response, and referred pain patterns. The
etiology of myofascial trigger points is discussed with a detailed and comprehensive review of
the most common mechanisms, including low-level muscle contractions, uneven intramus-
cular pressure distribution, direct trauma, unaccustomed eccentric contractions, eccentric
contractions in unconditioned muscle, and maximal or sub-maximal concentric contractions.
Many current scientific studies are included and provide support for considering myofascial
trigger points in the clinical decision-making process. The article concludes with a summary
of frequently encountered precipitating and perpetuating mechanical, nutritional, metabolic,
and psychological factors relevant for physical therapy practice. Current scientific evidence
strongly supports that awareness and working knowledge of muscle dysfunction and in par-
ticular myofascial trigger points should be incorporated into manual physical therapy practice
consistent with the guidelines for clinical practice developed by the International Federation
of Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapists. While there are still many unanswered questions in
explaining the etiology of myofascial trigger points, this article provides manual therapists
with an up-to-date evidence-informed review of the current scientific knowledge.
Key Word s : Myofascial Pain Syndrome, Trigger Points, Myofascial, Etiology,
Jan Dommerholt, PT, MPS, FAAPM
Carel Bron, PT
Jo Franssen, PT
During the past few decades, myofascial trigger points
(MTrPs) and myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) have
received much attention in the scientific and clinical
literature. Researchers worldwide are investigating
various aspects of MTrPs, including their specific etiol-
ogy, pathophysiology, histology, referred pain patterns,
and clinical applications. Guidelines developed by the
International Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative
Therapists (IFOMT) confirm the importance of muscle
dysfunction for orthopedic manual therapy clinical prac-
tice. The IFOMT has defined orthopedic manual therapy
as “a specialized area of physiotherapy/physical therapy
for the management of neuromusculoskeletal condi-
tions, based on clinical reasoning, using highly specific
treatment approaches including manual techniques and
therapeutic exercises.” The educational standards of
IFOMT require that skills will be demonstrated in—among
others—“analysis and specific tests for functional status
of the muscular system,” “a high level of skill in other
manual and physical therapy techniques required to
mobilize the articular, muscular or neural systems,” and
“knowledge of various manipulative therapy approaches
as practiced within physical therapy, medicine, osteopathy
and chiropractic”1.
204 / The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 2006
However, articles about muscle dysfunction in the
manual therapy literature are sparse and they generally
focus on muscle injury and muscle repair mechanisms2 or
on muscle recruitment3. Until very recently, the current
scientific knowledge and clinical implications of MTrPs
were rarely included4-7. It appears that orthopedic manual
therapists have not paid much attention to the patho-
physiology and clinical manifestations of MTrPs. Manual
therapy educational programs in the US seem to reflect
this orientation and tend to place a strong emphasis on
joint dysfunction, mobilizations, and manipulations with
only about 10%-15% of classroom education devoted to
muscle pain and muscle dysfunction.
This review of the MTrP literature is based on
current best scientific evidence. The field of manual
therapy has joined other medical disciplines by embrac-
ing evidence-based medicine, which proposes that the
results of scientific research need to be integrated into
clinical practice8. Evidence-based medicine has been
defined as “the conscientious, explicit, and judicious
use of current best evidence in making decisions about
the care of individual patients”9,10. Within the evidence-
based medicine paradigm, evidence is not restricted to
randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews, and
meta-analyses, although this restricted view seems to be
prevalent in the medical and physical therapy literature.
Sackett et al9,10 emphasized that external clinical evidence
can inform but not replace individual clinical expertise.
Clinical expertise determines whether external clinical
evidence applies to an individual patient, and if so, how
it should be integrated into clinical decision-making.
Pencheon11 shared this perspective and suggested that
high-quality healthcare is about combining “wisdom
produced by years of experience” with “evidence produced
by generalizable research” in “ways with which patients
are happy.” He suggested shifting from evidence-based
to evidence-informed medicine, where clinical decision-
making is informed by research evidence but not driven
by it and always includes knowledge from experience.
Evidence-informed manual therapy involves integrat-
ing the best available external scientific evidence with
individual clinicians’ judgments, expertise, and clini-
cal decision-making12. The purpose of this article is to
provide a best evidence-informed review of the current
scientific understanding of MTrPs, including the etiology,
pathophysiology, and clinical implications, against the
background of extensive clinical experience.
Brief Historical Review
While Dr. Janet Travell (1901-1997) is generally
credited for bringing MTrPs to the attention of health
care providers, MTrPs have been described and redis-
covered for several centuries by various clinicians and
researchers13,14. As far back as the 16th century, de Baillou
(1538-1616) described what is now known as myofascial
pain syndrome (MPS)15. MPS is defined as the “sensory,
motor, and autonomic symptoms caused by MTrPs” and
has become a recognized medical diagnosis among pain
specialists16,17. In 1816, British physician Balfour described
“nodular tumors and thickenings which were painful to the
touch, and from which pains shot to neighboring parts”18.
In 1898, the German physician Strauss discussed “small,
tender and apple-sized nodules and painful, pencil-sized
to little-finger-sized palpable bands”19. The first trigger
point manual was published in 1931 in Germany nearly
a decade before Travell became interested in MTrPs20.
While these early descriptions may appear a bit archaic
and unusual—for example, in clinical practice one does
not encounter “apple-sized nodules” —these and other
historic papers did illustrate the basic features of MTrPs
quite accurately14.
In the late 1930s, Travell, who at that time was a
cardiologist and medical researcher, became particularly
interested in muscle pain following the publication of
several articles on referred pain21. Kellgren’s descriptions
of referred pain patterns of many muscles and spinal
ligaments after injecting these tissues with hypertonic
saline22-25 eventually moved Travell to shift her medical
career from cardiology to musculoskeletal pain. During
the 1940s, she published several articles on injection
techniques of MTrPs26-28. In 1952, she described the
myofascial genesis of pain with detailed referred pain
patterns for 32 muscles29. Other clinicians also became
interested in MTrPs. European physicians Lief and Chaitow
developed a treatment method, which they referred to as
“neuromuscular technique”30. German physician Gutstein
described the characteristics of MTrPs and effective manual
therapy treatments in several papers under the names
of Gutstein, Gutstein-Good, and Good31-34. In Australia,
Kelly produced a series of articles about fibrositis, which
paralleled Travel’s writings35-38.
In the US, chiropractors Nimmo and Vannerson39
described muscular “noxious generative points,” which
were thought to produce nerve impulses and eventually
result in “vasoconstriction, ischaemia, hypoxia, pain, and
cellular degeneration.” Later in his career, Nimmo adopted
the term “trigger point” after having been introduced
to Travell’s writings. Nimmo maintained that hypertonic
muscles are always painful to pressure, a statement that
later became known as “Nimmo’s law.” Like Travell,
Nimmo described distinctive referred pain patterns and
recommended releasing these dysfunctional points by
applying the proper degree of manual pressure. Nimmo’s
“receptor-tonus control method” continues to be popular
among chiropractic physicians39,40. According to a 1993
report by the National Board of Chiropractic Economics,
over 40% of chiropractors in the US frequently apply
Nimmo’s techniques41. Two spin-offs of Nimmo’s work
are St. John Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT) method and
NMT American version, which have become particularly
popular among massage therapists30.
In 1966, Travell founded the North American Academy
Myofascial Trigger Points: An Evidence-Informed Review / 205
of Manipulative Medicine, together with Dr. John Mennell,
who also published several articles about MTrPs42,43.
Throughout her career Travell promoted integrating
myofascial treatments with articular treatments16. One
of her earlier papers described a technique for reducing
sacroiliac displacement44. However, Travell45 maintained
the opinion that manipulations were the exclusive
domain of physicians and she rejected membership in
the North American Academy of Manipulative Medicine
by physical therapists.
In the early 1960s, Dr. David Simons was introduced
to Travell and her work, which became the start of a
fruitful collaboration eventually resulting in several pub-
lications, including the Trigger Point Manuals, consist-
ing of a 1983 first volume (upper half of the body) and
a 1992 second volume (lower half of the body)46,47. The
first volume has since been revised and updated and a
second edition was released in 199916. The Trigger Point
Manuals are the most comprehensive review of nearly
150 muscle referred-pain patterns based on Travell’s
clinical observations, and they include an extensive
review of the scientific basis of MTrPs. Both volumes
have been translated into several foreign languages,
including Russian, German, French, Italian, Japanese,
and Spanish. Several other clinicians worldwide have
also published their own trigger point manuals48-54.
Clinical Aspects of
Myofascial Trigger Points
An MTrP is described as “a hyperirritable spot in
skeletal muscle that is associated with a hypersensitive
palpable nodule in a taut band”16. Myofascial trigger points
are classified into active and latent trigger points16. An
active MTrP is a symptom-producing MTrP and can trigger
local or referred pain or other paraesthesiae. A latent
MTrP does not trigger pain without being stimulated.
Myofascial trigger points are the hallmark characteris-
tics of MPS and feature motor, sensory, and autonomic
components. Motor aspects of active and latent MTrPs
may include disturbed motor function, muscle weak-
ness as a result of motor inhibition, muscle stiffness,
and restricted range of motion55,56. Sensory aspects may
include local tenderness, referral of pain to a distant
site, and peripheral and central sensitization. Peripheral
sensitization can be described as a reduction in threshold
and an increase in responsiveness of the peripheral ends
of nociceptors, while central sensitization is an increase
in the excitability of neurons within the central nervous
system. Signs of peripheral and central sensitization are
allodynia (pain due to a stimulus that does not normally
provoke pain) and hyperalgesia (an increased response
to a stimulus that is normally painful). Both active and
latent MTrPs are painful on compression. Vecchiet et al57-
59 described specific sensory changes over MTrPs. They
observed significant lowering of the pain threshold over
active MTrPs when measured by electrical stimulation,
not only in the muscular tissue but also in the overlying
cutaneous and subcutaneous tissues. In contrast, with
latent MTrPs, the sensory changes did not involve the
cutaneous and subcutaneous tissues57-59. Autonomic aspects
of MTrPs may include, among others, vasoconstriction,
vasodilatation, lacrimation, and piloerection16,60-63.
A detailed clinical history, examination of movement
patterns, and consideration of muscle referred-pain pat-
terns assist clinicians in determining which muscles
may harbor clinically relevant MTrPs64. Muscle pain is
perceived as aching and poorly localized. There are no
laboratory or imaging tests available that can confirm the
presence of MTrPs. Myofascial trigger points are identi-
fied through either a flat palpation technique (Figure 1)
in which a clinician applies finger or thumb pressure
to muscle against underlying bone tissue, or a pincer
palpation technique (Figure 2) in which a particular
muscle is palpated between the clinician’s fingers.
By definition, MTrPs are located within a taut band of
Fig. 1: Flat palpation
Fig. 2: Pincer palpation
206 / The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 2006
contractured muscle fibers (Figure 3), and palpating for
MTrPs starts with identifying this taut band by palpating
perpendicular to the fiber direction. Once the taut band
is located, the clinician moves along the taut band to
find a discrete area of intense pain and hardness.
twitch response (LTR), referred pain, or reproduction of
the person’s symptomatic pain increases the certainty
and specificity of the diagnosis of MPS. Local twitch
responses are spinal reflexes that appear to be unique
to MTrPs. They are characterized by a sudden contrac-
tion of muscle fibers within a taut band, when the taut
band is strummed manually or needled. The sudden
contractions can be observed visually, can be recorded
electromyographically, or can be visualized with diag-
nostic ultrasound72. When an MTrP is needled with a
monopolar teflon-coated EMG needle, LTRs appear as
high-amplitude poly-phasic EMG discharges73-78.
In clinical practice, there is no benefit in using
needle EMG or sonography, and its utility is limited to
research studies. For example, Audette et al79 established
that in 61.5% of active MTrPs in the trapezius and levator
scapulae muscles, dry needling an active MTrP elicited
an LTR in the same muscle on the opposite side of the
body. Needling of latent MTrPs resulted in unilateral
LTRs only. In this study, LTRs were used to research
the nature of active versus latent MTrPs. Studies have
shown that clinical outcomes are significantly improved
when LTRs are elicited in the treatment of patients with
dry needling or injection therapy74,80,81. The taut band,
MTrP, and LTR (Figure 4) are objective criteria, identified
solely by palpation, that do not require a verbal response
from the patient82.
Active MTrPs refer pain usually to a distant site.
The referred pain patterns (Figure 5) are not necessarily
restricted to single segmental pathways or to periph-
Fig. 3: Palpation of a trigger point within a taut band
(reproduced with permission from Weisskircher H-W. Head
Pains Due to Myofascial Trigger Points. CD-ROM, www., 1997)
Two studies have reported good overall interrater
reliability for identifying taut bands, MTrPs, referred pain,
and local twitch responses65,66. The minimum criteria
that must be satisfied in order to distinguish an MTrP
from any other tender area in muscle are a taut band
and a tender point in that taut band65. Although Janda
maintained that systematic palpation can differentiate
between myofascial taut bands and general muscle spasms,
electromyography is the gold standard to differentiate taut
bands from contracted muscle fibers67,68. Spasms can be
defined as electromyographic (EMG) activity as the result
of increased neuromuscular tone of the entire muscle,
and they are the result of nerve-initiated contractions. A
taut band is an endogenous localized contracture within
the muscle without activation of the motor endplate69.
From a physiological perspective, the term “contracture”
is more appropriate then “contraction” when describing
chronic involuntary shortening of a muscle without
EMG activity. In clinical practice, surface EMG is used
in the diagnosis and management of MTrPs in addition
to manual examinations67,70,71. Diagnostically, surface
EMG can assist in assessing muscle behavior during rest
and during functional tasks. Clinicians use the MTrP
referred pain patterns in determining which muscles
to examine with surface EMG. Muscles that harbor
MTrPs responsible for the patient’s pain complaint are
examined first. EMG assessments guide the clinician
with postural training, ergonomic interventions, and
muscle awareness training67.
The patient’s recognition of the elicited pain further
guides the clinician. The presence of a so-called local
Fig. 4:
Local twitch response in a rabbit trigger spot.
Local twitch responses are elicited only when the needle
is placed accurately within the trigger spot. Moving as
little as 0.5 cm away from the trigger spot virtually
eliminates the local twitch response (reproduced with
permission from Hong C-Z, Torigoe Y. Electrophysiological
characteristics of localized twitch responses in responsive
taut bands of rabbit skeletal muscle. J Musculoskeletal
Pain 1994;2:17-43)
Myofascial Trigger Points: An Evidence-Informed Review / 207
eral nerve distributions. Although typical referred pain
patterns have been established, there is considerable
variation between patients16,48.
Usually, the pain in reference zones is described as
“deep tissue pain” of a dull and aching nature. Occasion-
ally, patients may report burning or tingling sensations,
especially in superficial muscles such as the platysma
muscle83,84. By mechanically stimulating active MTrPs,
patients may report the reproduction of their pain, either
immediately or after a 10-15 second delay. Normally,
skeletal muscle nociceptors require high intensities of
stimulation and they do not respond to moderate local
pressure, contractions, or muscle stretches85. However,
MTrPs cause persistent noxious stimulation, which
results in increasing the number and size of the recep-
tive fields to which a single dorsal horn nociceptive
neuron responds, and the experience of spontaneous and
referred pain86. Several recent studies have determined
previously unrecorded referred pain patterns of differ-
ent muscles and MTrPs87-90. Referred pain is not specific
to MPS but it is relatively easy to elicit over MTrPs91.
Normal muscle tissue and other body tissues, includ-
ing the skin, zygapophyseal joints, or internal organs,
may also refer pain to distant regions with mechanical
pressure, making referred pain elicited by stimulation
of a tender location a nonspecific finding84,92-95. Gibson
et al96 found that referred pain is actually easier to elicit
in tendon-bone junctions and tendon than in the muscle
belly. However, after exposing the muscle to eccentric
exercise, significantly higher referred pain frequency
and enlarged pain areas were found at the muscle belly
and the tendon-bone junction sites following injection
with hypotonic saline. The authors suggested that central
sensitization may explain the referred pain frequency
and enlarged pain areas97.
While a survey of members of the American Pain
Society showed general agreement that MTrPs and MPS
exist as distinct clinical entities, MPS continues to be
one of the most commonly missed diagnoses17,98. In a
recent study of 110 adults with low back pain, myofascial
pain was the most common finding affecting 95.5% of
patients, even though myofascial pain was poorly defined
as muscle pain in the paraspinal muscles, piriformis, or
tensor fasciae latae99. A study of adults with frequent mi-
graine headaches diagnosed according to the International
Headache Society criteria showed that 94% of the patients
reported migrainous pain with manual stimulation of
cervical and temporal MTrPs, compared with only 29%
of controls100,101. In 30% of the migraine group, palpa-
tion of MTrPs elicited a “full-blown migraine attack that
required abortive treatment.” The researchers found a
positive relationship between the number of MTrPs and
the frequency of migraine attacks and duration of the
illness100. Several studies have confirmed that MTrPs are
common not only in persons attending pain management
clinics but also in those seeking help through internal
medicine and dentistry102-107. In fact, MTrPs have been
identified with nearly every musculoskeletal pain problem,
including radiculopathies104, joint dysfunction108, disk
pathology109, tendonitis110, craniomandibular dysfunc-
tion111-113, migraines100,114, tension-type headaches7,87,
carpal tunnel syndrome115, computer-related disorders116,
whiplash-associated disorders60,117, spinal dysfunction118,
and pelvic pain and other urologic syndromes119-122.
Myofascial trigger points are associated with many other
pain syndromes123, including, for example, post-herpetic
neuralgia124,125, complex regional pain syndrome126,127,
nocturnal cramps12 8, phantom pain129,130, and other
relatively uncommon diagnoses such as Barré-Liéou
syndrome131 and neurogenic pruritus132. A recent study
suggested that there might be a relationship between
MTrPs in the upper trapezius muscle and cervical spine
dysfunction at the C3 and C4 vertebrae, although a
cause-and-effect relationship was not established in
this correlational study133. Another study described that
persons with mechanical neck pain had significantly
more clinically relevant MTrPs in the upper trapezius,
sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, and suboccipital
muscles as compared to healthy controls5.
Etiology of MTrPs
Several possible mechanisms can lead to the devel-
opment of MTrPs, including low-level muscle contrac-
tions, uneven intramuscular pressure distribution, direct
trauma, unaccustomed eccentric contractions, eccentric
contractions in unconditioned muscle, and maximal or
submaximal concentric contractions.
Low-level muscle contractions
Of particular interest in the etiology of MTrPs are
Fig. 5: MTrP referred pain patterns (reproduced with per-
mission from MEDICLIP, Manual Medicine 1 & 2, Version
1.0a, 1997, Williams & Wilkins)
208 / The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 2006
low-level muscle exertions and the so-called Cinderella
Hypothesis developed by Hägg in 1988134. The Cinderella
Hypothesis postulates that occupational myalgia is caused
by selective overloading of the earliest recruited and
last de-recruited motor units according to the ordered
recruitment principle or Henneman’s “size principle”134,135.
Smaller motor units are recruited before and de-recruited
after larger ones; as a result, the smaller type 1 fibers are
continuously activated during prolonged motor tasks135.
According to the Cinderella Hypothesis, muscular force
generated at sub-maximal levels during sustained muscle
contractions engages only a fraction of the motor units
available without the normally occurring substitution of
motor units during higher force contractions, which in
turn can result in metabolically overloaded motor units,
prone to loss of cellular Ca2+-homeostasis, subsequent
activation of autogenic destructive processes, and muscle
pain136,137. The other pillar of the Cinderella Hypothesis is
the finding of an excess of ragged red fibers in myalgic
patients136. Indeed, several researchers have demonstrated
the presence of ragged red fibers and moth-eaten fibers
in subjects with myalgia, which are indications of struc-
tural damage to the cell membrane and mitochondria
and a change in the distribution of mitochondria or the
sarcotubular system respectively138-142.
There is growing evidence that low-level static muscle
contractions or exertions can result in degeneration of
muscle fibers143. Gissell144,145 has shown that low-level
exertions can result in an increase of Ca2+-release in
skeletal muscle cells, muscle membrane damage due to
leakage of the intracellular enzyme lactate dehydrogenase,
structural damage, energy depletion, and myalgia. Low-
level muscle stimulation can also lead to the release of
interleukin 6 (IL-6) and other cytokines146,147.
Several studies have confirmed the Cinderella Hy-
pothesis and support the idea that in low-level static
exertions, muscle fiber recruitment patterns tend to be
stereotypical with continuous activation of smaller type
1 fibers during prolonged motor tasks148-152. As Hägg in-
dicated, the continuous activity and metabolic overload
of certain motor units does not occur in all subjects136.
The Cinderella Hypothesis was recently applied to the
development of MTrPs116. In a well-designed study, Treast-
ers et al116 established that sustained low-level muscle
contractions during continuous typing for as little as 30
minutes commonly resulted in the formation of MTrPs.
They suggested that MTrPs might provide a useful expla-
nation for muscle pain and injury that can occur from
low-level static exertions116. Myofascial trigger points
are common in office workers, musicians, dentists, and
other occupational groups exposed to low-level muscle
exertions153. Chen et al154 also suggested that low-level
muscle exertions can lead to sensitization and develop-
ment of MTrPs. Forty piano students showed significantly
reduced pressure thresholds over latent MTrPs after only
20 minutes of continuous piano playing154.
Intramuscular pressure distribution
Otten155 has suggested that circulatory disturbances
secondary to increased intramuscular pressure may also
lead to the development of myalgia. Based on mathemati-
cal modeling applied to a frog gastrocnemius muscle,
Otten confirmed that during static low-level muscle
contractions, capillary pressures increase dramatically
especially near the muscle insertions (Figure 6). In other
words, during low-level exertions, the intramuscular
Fig. 6: Intramuscular pressure distribution in the gastroc-
nemius muscle of the toad (reproduced with permission
from E. Otten, 2006)
pressure near the muscle insertions might increase
rapidly, leading to excessive capillary pressure, decreased
circulation, and localized hypoxia and ischaemia155. With
higher level contractions in between 10% and 20% of
maximum voluntary effort, the intramuscular pressure
increases also in the muscle belly156,157. According to
Otten, the increased pressure gradients during low-level
exertions may contribute to the development of pain at
the musculotendinous junctions and eventually to the
formation of MTrPs (personal communication, 2005).
In 1999, Simons introduced the concept of “attach-
ment trigger points” to explain pain at the musculoten-
dinous junctions in persons with MTrPs, based on the
assumption that taut bands would generate sufficient
sustained force to induce localized enthesopathies16,158.
More recently, Simons concluded that there is no con-
vincing evidence that the tension generated in shortened
sarcomeres in a muscle belly would indeed be able to
generate passive or resting force throughout an entire
taut band resulting in enthesopathies, even though
Myofascial Trigger Points: An Evidence-Informed Review / 209
there may be certain muscles or conditions where this
could occur (personal communication, 2005). To the
contrary, force generated by individual motor units is
always transmitted laterally to the muscle’s connective
tissue matrix, involving at least two protein complexes
containing vinculin and dystrophin, respectively159. There
is also considerable evidence that the assumption that
muscle fibers pass from tendon to tendon is without
basis160. Trotter160 has demonstrated that skeletal muscle
is comprised of in-series fibers. In other words, there is
evidence that a single muscle fiber does not run from
tendon to tendon. The majority of fibers are in series
with inactive fibers, which makes it even more unlikely
that the whole muscle length-tension properties would
be dictated by the shortest contractured fibers in the
In addition, it is important to consider the mechanical
and functional differences between fast and slow motor
units162,163. Slow motor units are always stiffer than fast
units, although fast units can produce more force. If
there were any transmission of force along the muscle
fiber, as Simons initially suggested, fast fibers would be
better suited to accomplish this. Yet, fast motor units
have larger series of elastic elements, which would
absorb most of the force displacement164,165. Fast fibers
show a progressive decrease in cross-sectional area and
end in a point within the muscle fascicle, making force
transmission even more unlikely163. Fast fibers rely on
transmitting a substantial proportion of their force to
the endomysium, transverse cytoskeleton, and adja-
cent muscle fibers162,163. In summary, the development
of so-called “attachment trigger points” as a result of
increased tension by contractured sarcomeres in MTrPs
is not clear and more research is needed to explain the
clinical observation that MTrPs appear to be linked to
pain at the musculotendinous junction. The increased
tension in the muscle belly is likely to dissipate across
brief sections of the taut band on both sides of the MTrP
and laterally through the transverse cytoskeleton166-168.
Instead, Otten’s model of increased intramuscular pressure,
decreased circulation, localized hypoxia, and ischaemia at
the muscle insertions provides an alternative model for
the clinically observed pain near the musculotendinous
junction and osseous insertions in persons with MTrPs,
even though the model does not explain why taut bands
are commonly present155.
Direct trauma
There is general agreement that acute muscle over-
load can activate MTrPs, although systematic studies
are lacking169. For example, people involved in whiplash
injuries commonly experience prolonged muscle pain
and dysfunction170-173. In a retrospective review, Schul-
ler et al174 found that 80% of 1096 subjects involved in
low-velocity collisions demonstrated evidence of muscle
pain with myogeloses among the most common findings.
Although Schuller et al did not define these myogelo-
ses, Simons has suggested that a myogelosis describes
the same clinical entity as an MTrP174, 175. Baker117 re-
ported that the splenius capitis, semispinalis capitis, and
sternocleidomastoid muscles developed symptomatic
MTrPs in 77%, 62%, and 52% of 52 whiplash patients,
respectively. In a retrospective review of 54 consecutive
chronic whiplash patients, Gerwin and Dommerholt176
reported that clinically relevant MTrPs were found in
every patient, with the trapezius muscle involved most
often. Following treatment emphasizing the inactivation
of MTrPs and restoration of normal muscle length, ap-
proximately 80% of patients experienced little or no pain,
even though the average time following the initiating
injury was 2.5 years at the beginning of the treatment
regimen. All patients had been seen previously by other
physicians and physical therapists who apparently had
not considered MTrPs in their thought process and
clinical management176. Fernández-de-las-Peñas et al177,178
confirmed that inactivation of MTrPs should be included
in the management of persons suffering from whiplash-
associated disorders. In their research-based treatment
protocol, the combination of cervical and thoracic spine
manipulations with MTrP treatments proved superior
to more conventional physical therapy consisting of
massage, ultrasound, home exercises, and low-energy
high-frequency pulsed electromagnetic therapy177.
Direct trauma may create a vicious cycle of events
wherein damage to the sarcoplasmic reticulum or the
muscle cell membrane may lead to an increase of the
calcium concentration, a subsequent activation of actin
and myosin, a relative shortage of adenosine triphosphate
(ATP), and an impaired calcium pump, which in turn
will increase the intracellular calcium concentration
even more, completing the cycle. The calcium pump is
responsible for returning intracellular Ca2+ to the sar-
coplasmic reticulum against a concentration gradient,
which requires a functional energy supply. Simons and
Travell179 considered this sequence in the development
of the so-called “energy crisis hypothesis” introduced
in 1981. Sensory and motor system dysfunction have
been shown to develop rapidly after injury and actually
may persist in those who develop chronic muscle pain
and in individuals who have recovered or continue to
have persistent mild symptoms172,180. Scott et al181 de-
termined that individuals with chronic whiplash pain
develop more widespread hypersensitivity to mechanical
pressure and thermal stimuli than those with chronic
idiopathic neck pain. Myofascial trigger points are a
likely source of ongoing peripheral nociceptive input,
and they contribute to both peripheral and central
sensitization, which may explain the observation of
widespread allodynia and hypersensitivity60,62,63. In addi-
tion to being caused by whiplash injury, acute muscle
overload can occur with direct impact, lifting injuries,
sports performance, etc.182.
210 / The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 2006
Eccentric and (sub)maximal concentric contractions
Many patients report the onset of pain and activation
of MTrPs following either acute, repetitive, or chronic
muscle overload183. Gerwin et al184 suggested that likely
mechanisms relevant for the development of MTrPs
included either unaccustomed eccentric exercise, ec-
centric exercise in unconditioned muscle, or maximal
or sub-maximal concentric exercise. A brief review of
pertinent aspects of exercise follows, preceding linking
this body of research to current MTrP research.
Eccentric exercise is associated with myalgia, muscle
weakness, and destruction of muscle fibers, partially
because eccentric contractions cause an irregular and
uneven lengthening of muscle fibers185-187. Muscle sore-
ness and pain occur because of local ultra-structural
damage, the release of sensitizing algogenic substances,
and the subsequent onset of peripheral and central
sensitization85,188-190. Muscle damage occurs at the cyto-
skeletal level and frequently involves disorganization of
the A-band, streaming of the Z-band, and disruption of
cytoskeletal proteins, such as titin, nebulin, and desmin,
even after very short bouts of eccentric exercise186,189-194.
Loss of desmin can occur within 5 minutes of eccentric
loading, even in muscles that routinely contract eccen-
trically during functional activities, but does not occur
after isometric of concentric contractions193,195. Lieber
and Fridén193 suggested that the rapid loss of desmin
might indicate a type of enzymatic hydrolysis or protein
phosphorylation as a likely mechanism.
One of the consequences of muscle damage is muscle
weakness196-198. Furthermore, concentric and eccentric
contractions are linked to contraction-induced capil-
lary constrictions, impaired blood flow, hypoperfusion,
ischaemia, and hypoxia, which in turn contribute to
the development of more muscle damage, a local acidic
milieu, and an excessive release of protons (H+), potassium
(K+), calcitonin-gene-related-peptide (CGRP), bradykinin
(BK), and substance P (SP), and sensitization of muscle
nociceptors184,188. There are striking similarities with
the chemical environment of active MTrPs established
with microdialysis, suggesting an overlap between the
research on eccentric exercise and MTrP research184,199.
However, at this time, it is premature to conclude that
there is solid evidence that eccentric and sub-maximal
concentric exercise are absolute precursors to the de-
velopment of MTrPs. In support of this hypothesized
causal relation, Itoh et al200 demonstrated in a recent
study that eccentric exercise can lead to the formation
of taut and tender ropy bands in exercised muscle, and
they hypothesized that eccentric exercise may indeed be
a useful model for the development of MTrPs.
Eccentric and concentric exercise and MTrPs have
been associated with localized hypoxia, which appears
to be one of the most important precursors for the
development of MTrPs201. As mentioned, hypoxia leads
to the release of multiple algogenic substances. In this
context, recent research by Shah et al199 at the US Na-
tional Institutes of Health is particularly relevant. Shah
et al analyzed the chemical milieu of latent and active
MTrPs and normal muscles. They found significantly in-
creased concentrations of BK, CGRP, SP, tumor necrosis
factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-1β (IL-1β), serotonin, and
norepinephrine in the immediate milieu of active MTrPs
only199. These substances are well-known stimulants for
various muscle nociceptors and bind to specific receptor
molecules of the nerve endings, including the so-called
purinergic and vanilloid receptors85,202.
Muscle nociceptors are dynamic structures whose
receptors can change depending on the local tissue
environment. When a muscle is damaged, it releases
ATP, which stimulates purinergic receptors, which are
sensitive to ATP, adenosine diphosphate, and adenosine.
They bind ATP, stimulate muscle nociceptors, and cause
pain. Vanilloid receptors are sensitive to heat and respond
to an increase in H+-concentration, which is especially
relevant under conditions with a lowered pH, such as
ischaemia, inflammation, or prolonged and exhaustive
muscle contractions85. Shah et al199 determined that the
pH at active MTrP sites is significantly lower than at
latent MTrP sites. A lowered pH can initiate and main-
tain muscle pain and mechanical hyperalgesia through
activation of acid-sensing ion channels203,204. Neuroplastic
changes in the central nervous system facilitate me-
chanical hyperalgesia even after the nociceptive input
has been terminated (central sensitization)203,204. Any
noxious stimulus sufficient to cause nociceptor activa-
tion causes bursts of SP and CGRP to be released into
the muscle, which have a significant effect on the local
biochemical milieu and microcirculation by stimulating
“feed-forward” neurogenic inflammation. Neurogenic
inflammation can be described as a continuous cycle of
increasing production of inflammatory mediators and
neuropeptides and an increasing barrage of nociceptive
input into wide dynamic-range neurons in the spinal
cord dorsal horn184.
The Integrated Trigger Point Hypothesis
The integrated trigger point hypothesis (Figure 7)
has evolved since its first introduction as the “energy
crisis hypothesis” in 1981. It is based on a combination of
electrodiagnostic and histopathological evidence179,183.
Already in 1957, Weeks and Travell205 had published
a report that outlined a characteristic electrical activ-
ity of an MTrP. It was not until 1993 that Hubbard et
al206 confirmed that this EMG discharge consists of
low-amplitude discharges in the order of 10-50 µV and
intermittent high-amplitude discharges (up to 500 µV)
in painful MTrPs. Initially, the electrical activity was
termed “spontaneous electrical activity” (SEA) and
thought to be related to dysfunctional muscle spindles206.
Best available evidence now suggests that the SEA is in
fact endplate noise (EPN), which is found much more
Myofascial Trigger Points: An Evidence-Informed Review / 211
commonly in the endplate zone near MTrPs than in an
endplate zone outside MTrPs207-209. The electrical discharges
occur with frequencies that are 10-1,000 times that of
normal endplate potentials, and they have been found in
humans, rabbits, and recently even in horses209,210. The
discharges are most likely the result of an abnormally
excessive release of acetylcholine (ACh) and indicative
of dysfunctional motor endplates, contrary to the com-
monly accepted notion among electromyographers that
endplate noise arises from normal motor endplates183.
The effectiveness of botulinum toxin in the treatment
of MTrPs provides indirect evidence of the presence of
excessive ACh211. Botulinum toxin (BoTox) is a neurotoxin
that blocks the release of ACh from presynaptic choliner-
gic nerve endings. A recent study in mice demonstrated
that the administration of botulinum toxin resulted in a
complete functional repair of dysfunctional endplates212.
There is some early evidence that muscle stretching and
hypertonicity may also enhance the excessive release of
ACh213,214. Tension on the integrins in the presynaptic
membrane at the motor nerve terminal is hypothesized
to mechanically trigger an ACh release that does not
require Ca2+ 213-215. Integrins are receptor proteins in the
cell membrane involved in attaching individual cells to
the extracellular matrix.
Excessive ACh affects voltage-gated sodium chan-
nels of the sarcoplasmic reticulum and increases the
intracellular calcium levels, which triggers sustained
muscle contractures. It is conceivable that in MTrPs,
myosin filaments literally get stuck in the Z-band of
the sarcomere. During sarcomere contractions, titin
filaments are folded into a gel-like structure at the Z-
band. In MTrPs, the gel-like titin may prevent the myosin
filaments from detaching. The myosin filaments may
actually damage the regular motor assembly and prevent
the sarcomere from restoring its resting length216. Muscle
contractures are also maintained because of the relative
shortage of ATP in an MTrP, as ATP is required to break
the cross-bridges between actin and myosin filaments.
The question remains whether sustained contractures
require an increase of oxygen availability.
At the same time, the shortened sarcomeres compro-
mise the local circulation causing ischaemia. Studies of
oxygen saturation levels have demonstrated severe hypoxia
in MTrPs201. Hypoxia leads to the release of sensitizing
substances and activates muscle nociceptors as reviewed
above. The combined decreased energy supply and pos-
sible increased metabolic demand would also explain
the common finding of abnormal mitochondria in the
nerve terminal and the previously mentioned ragged red
fibers. In mice, the onset of hypoxia led to an immediate
increased ACh release at the motor endplate217.
The combined high-intensity mechanical and chemi-
cal stimuli may cause activation and sensitization of
the peripheral nerve endings and autonomic nerves,
activate second order neurons including so-called “sleep-
ing” receptors, cause central sensitization, and lead to
the formation of new receptive fields, referred pain, a
long-lasting increase in the excitability of nociceptors,
and a more generalized hyperalgesia beyond the initial
nociceptive area. An expansion of a receptive field means
that a dorsal horn neuron receives information from
areas it has not received information from previously218.
Sensitization of peripheral nerve endings can also cause
pain through SP activating the neurokin-1 receptors
and glutamate activating N-methyl-D-aspartate recep-
tors, which opens post-synaptic channels through which
Ca2+ ions can enter the dorsal horn and activate many
enzymes involved in the sensitization85.
Several histological studies offer further support for
the integrated trigger point hypothesis. In 1976, Simons
and Stolov published the first biopsy study of MTrPs
in a canine muscle and reported multiple contraction
knots in various individual muscle fibers (Figure 8)219.
The knots featured a combination of severely shortened
sarcomeres in the center and lengthened sarcomeres
outside the immediate MTrP region219.
Reitinger et al220 reported pathologic alterations of
the mitochondria as well as increased width of A-bands
and decreased width of I-bands in muscle sarcomeres of
MTrPs in the gluteus medius muscle. Windisch et al221
determined similar alterations in a post-mortem histo-
logical study of MTrPs completed within 24 hours of time
of death. Mense et al222 studied the effects of electrically
induced muscle contractions and a cholinesterase blocker
on muscles with experimentally induced contraction knots
and found evidence of localized contractions, torn fibers,
and longitudinal stripes. Pongratz and Spath223, 224 dem-
onstrated evidence of a contraction disk in a region of an
MTrP using light microscopy. New MTrP histopathological
studies are currently being conducted at the Friedrich
Fig. 7: The integrated trigger point hypothesis.
Ach- acetylcholine; AchE- acetylcholinesterase; AchR-
acetylcholine receptor
212 / The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 2006
Baur Institute in Munich, Germany. Gariphianova225
described pathological changes with biopsy studies of
MTrPs, including a decrease in quantity of mitochondria,
possibly indicating metabolic distress. Several older
histological studies are often quoted, but it is not clear
to what extent those findings are specific for MTrPs. In
1951, Glogowsky and Wallraff226 reported damaged fibril
structures. Fassbender227 observed degenerative changes
of the I-bands, in addition to capillary damage, a focal
accumulation of glycogen, and a disintegration of the
myofibrillar network.
There is growing evidence for the integrated trigger
point hypothesis with regard to the motor and sensory
aspects of MTrPs, but many questions remain about
the autonomic aspects. Several studies have shown
that MTrPs are influenced by the autonomic nervous
system. Exposing subjects with active MTrPs in the
upper trapezius muscles to stressful tasks consistently
increased the electrical activity in MTrPs in the upper
trapezius muscle but not in control points in the same
muscle, while autogenic relaxation was able to reverse
the effects228-231. The administration of the sympathetic
blocking agent phentolamine significantly reduced the
electrical activity of an MTrP228,232,233. The interactions
between the autonomic nervous system and MTrPs need
further investigation. Hubbard228 maintained that the
autonomic features of MTrPs are evidence that MTrPs
may be dysfunctional muscle spindles. Gerwin et al184
have suggested that the presence of alpha and beta
adrenergic receptors at the endplate provide a possible
mechanism for autonomic interaction. In a rodent,
stimulation of the alpha and beta adrenergic receptors
stimulated the release of ACh in the phrenic nerve234.
In a recent study, Ge et al61 provided for the first time
experimental evidence of sympathetic facilitation of me-
chanical sensitization of MTrPs, which they attributed to
a change in the local chemical milieu at the MTrPs due
to increased vasoconstriction, an increased sympathetic
release of noradrenaline, or an increased sensitivity to
noradrenaline. Another intriguing possibility is that the
cytokine interleukin-8 (IL-8) found in the immediate
milieu of active MTrPs may contribute to the autonomic
features of MTrP. IL-8 can induce mechanical hyper-no-
ciception, which is inhibited by beta adrenergic receptor
antagonists235. Shah et al found significantly increased
levels of IL-8 in the immediate milieu of active MTrPs
(Shah, 2006, personal communication).
The findings of Shah et al199 mark a major milestone
in the understanding and acceptance of MTrPs and support
parts of the integrated trigger point hypothesis183. The
possible consequences of several of the chemicals present
in the immediate milieu of active MTrPs have been
explored by Gerwin et al184. As stated, Shah et al found
significantly increased concentrations of H+, BK, CGRP,
SP, TNF-α, IL-1β, serotonin, and norepinephrine in active
MTrPs only. There are many interactions between these
chemicals that all can contribute to the persistent nature
of MTrPs through various vicious feedback cycles236. For
example, BK is known to activate and sensitize muscle
nociceptors, which leads to inflammatory hyperalgesia,
an activation of high-threshold nociceptors associated
with C-fibers, and even an increased production of BK
itself. Furthermore, BK stimulates the release of TNF-α,
which activates the production of the interleukins IL-1β,
IL-6, and IL-8. Especially IL-8 can cause hyperalgesia
that is independent from prostaglandin mechanisms.
Via a positive feedback loop, IL-1β can also induce the
release of BK237. Release of BK, K+, H+, and cytokines
from injured muscle activates the muscle nociceptors,
thereby causing tenderness and pain184.
Calcitonin gene-related peptide can enhance the
release of ACh from the motor endplate and simultane-
ously decrease the effectiveness of acetylcholinesterase
(AChE) in the synaptic cleft, which decreases the removal
of ACh238,239. Calcitonin gene-related peptide also up-
regulates the ACh-receptors (AChR) at the muscle and
thereby creates more docking stations for ACh. Miniature
endplate activity depends on the state of the AChR and
on the local concentration of ACh, which is the result
of ACh-release, reuptake, and breakdown by AChE. In
summary, increased concentrations of CGRP lead to a
release of more ACh, and increase the impact of ACh by
reducing AChE effectiveness and increasing AChR efficiency.
Miniature endplate potential frequency is increased as
a result of greater ACh effect. The observed lowered pH
has several implications as well. Not only does a lower
pH enhance the release of CGRP, it also contributes to a
further down-regulation of AChE. The multiple chemicals
and lowered pH found in active MTrPs can contribute
to the chronic nature of MTrPs, enhance the segmental
spread of nociceptive input into the dorsal horn of the
Fig. 8: Longitudinal section of a contraction knot in a canine
gracilis muscle (reproduced with permission from: Simons
DG, Travell JG, Simons LS. Travell and Simons’ Myofascial
Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Vol. 1.
2nd ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1999)
Myofascial Trigger Points: An Evidence-Informed Review / 213
spinal cord, activate multiple receptive fields, and trigger
referred pain, allodynia, hypersensitivity, and peripheral
and central sensitization that are characteristic of active
myofascial MTrPs184. There is no other evidence-based
hypothesis that explains the phenomena of MTrPs in
as much detail and clarity as the expanded integrated
trigger point hypothesis (Figure 9).
medical and psychological intervention64,82. Common
nutritional deficiencies or insufficiencies involve vitamin
B1, B6, B12, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron,
magnesium, and zinc, among others. The term “insuf-
ficiency” is used to indicate levels in the lower range of
normal, such as those associated with biochemical or
metabolic abnormalities or with subtle clinical signs and
symptoms. Nutritional or metabolic insufficiencies are
frequently overlooked and not necessarily considered
clinically relevant by physicians unfamiliar with MTrPs
and chronic pain conditions. Yet any inadequacy that
interferes with the energy supply of muscle is likely to
aggravate MTrPs242. The most common deficiencies and
insufficiencies will be reviewed briefly.
Vitamin B12 deficiencies are rather common and
may affect as many as 15%-20% of the elderly and ap-
proximately 16% of persons with chronic MTrPs103,243.
B12 deficiencies can result in cognitive dysfunction,
degeneration of the spinal cord, and peripheral neu-
ropathy, which is most likely linked to complaints of
diffuse myalgia seen in some patients. Serum levels of
vitamin B12 as high as 350 pg/ml may be associated with
a metabolic deficiency manifested by elevated serum or
urine methylmalonic acid or homocysteine and may be
clinically symptomatic244. However, there are patients
with normal levels of methylmalonic acid and homocys-
teine, who do present with metabolic abnormalities of
B12 function242. Folic acid is closely linked to vitamin
B12 and should be measured as well. While folic acid
is able to correct the pernicious anaemia associated
with vitamin B12 deficiency, it does not influence the
neuromuscular aspects.
Iron deficiency in muscle occurs when ferritin is
depleted. Ferritin represents the tissue-bound non-es-
sential iron stores in muscle, liver, and bone marrow
that supply the essential iron for oxygen transport and
iron-dependent enzymes. Iron is critical for the genera-
tion of energy through the cytochrome oxidase enzyme
system and a lack of iron may be a factor in the develop-
ment and maintenance of MTrPs242. Interestingly, lowered
levels of cytochrome oxidase are common in patients
with myalgia140. Serum levels of 15-20 ng/ml indicate
a depletion of ferritin. Common symptoms are chronic
tiredness, coldness, extreme fatigue with exercise, and
muscle pain. Anaemia is common at levels of 10 ng/ml
or less. Although optimal levels of ferritin are unknown,
Gerwin242 suggested that levels below 50 ng/ml may be
clinically significant.
Close to 90% of patients with chronic musculoskeletal
pain may have vitamin D deficiency245. Vitamin D deficien-
cies are identified by measuring 25-OH vitamin D levels.
Levels above 20 ng/ml are considered normal, but Gerwin242
suggested that levels below 34 ng/ml may represent insuf-
ficiencies. Correction of insufficient levels of vitamin B12,
vitamin D, and iron levels may take many months, during
which patients may not see much improvement.
Fig. 9: The expanded MTrP hypothesis (reproduced with
permission from: Gerwin RD, Dommerholt J, Shah J. An
expansion of Simons’ integrated hypothesis of trigger point
formation. Curr Pain Headache Rep 2004;8:468-475).
Ach- acetylcholine; AchE- acetylcholinesterase; AchR-
acetylcholine receptor; ATP- adenosine triphosphate;
SP- substance P; CGRP- calcitonin gene-related peptide;
MEPP- miniature endplate potential
Perpetuating Factors
There are several precipitating or perpetuating factors
that need to be identified and, if present, adequately
managed to successfully treat persons with chronic
myalgia. Even though several common perpetuating
factors are more or less outside the direct scope of
manual physical therapy, familiarity with these factors
is critical especially considering the development of
increasingly autonomous physical therapy practice.
Simons, Travell, and Simons16 identified mechanical,
nutritional, metabolic, and psychological categories of
perpetuating factors. Mechanical factors are familiar to
manual therapists and include the commonly observed
forward head posture, structural leg length inequalities,
scoliosis, pelvic torsion, joint hypermobility, ergonomic
stressors, poor body mechanics, etc.16,102,116,240.
In recent review articles, Gerwin241,242 provided a
comprehensive update with an emphasis on non-struc-
tural perpetuating factors. Management of these factors
usually requires an interdisciplinary approach, including
214 / The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 2006
Even when active MTrPs have been identified in a
particular patient, clinicians must always consider that
MTrPs may be secondary to metabolic insufficiencies
or other medical diagnoses. It is questionable whether
physical therapy and—as an integral part of physical
therapy management—manual therapy intervention
can be successful when patients have nutritional or
metabolic insufficiencies or deficiencies. A close working
relationship with physicians familiar with this body of
literature is essential. Therapists should consider the
possible interactions between arthrogenic or neurogenic
dysfunction and MTrPs4,5,118,133,246,247.
Clinically, physical therapists should address all
aspects of the dysfunction. There are many other con-
ditions that feature muscle pain and MTrPs, including
hypothyroidism, systemic lupus erythematosis, Lyme
disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, candida albicans infec-
tions, myoadenylate deaminase deficiency, hypoglycaemia,
and parasitic diseases such as fascioliasis, amoebiasis,
and giardia64, 242. Therapists should be familiar with the
symptoms associated with these medical diagnoses64.
Psychological stress may activate MTrPs. Electromyo-
graphic activity in MTrPs has been shown to increase
dramatically in response to mental and emotional stress,
whereas adjacent non-trigger point muscle EMG activity
remained normal229, 230. Relaxation techniques, such as
autogenic relaxation, can diminish the electrical activ-
ity231. In addition, many patients with persistent MTrPs
are dealing with depression, anxiety, anger, and feelings
of hopelessness248. Pain-related fear and avoidance can
lead to the development and maintenance of chronic
pain249. Sleep disturbance can also be a major factor in
the perpetuation of musculoskeletal pain and must be
addressed. Sleep problems may be related to pain, apnea,
or to mood disorders like depression or anxiety. Manage-
ment can be both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic.
Pharmacologic treatment utilizes drugs that promote
normal sleep patterns and induce and maintain sleep
through the night without causing daytime sedation.
Non-pharmacologic treatment emphasizes sleep hygiene,
such as using the bed only for sleep and sex, and not
for reading, television viewing, and eating250. Therapists
must be sensitive to the impact of psychological and
emotional distress and refer patients to clinical social
workers or psychologists when appropriate.
The Role of Manual Therapy
Although the various management approaches are
beyond the scope of this article, manual therapy is one
of the basic treatment options and the role of orthope-
dic manual physical therapists cannot be overempha-
sized82,158. Myofascial trigger points are treated with
manual techniques, spray and stretch, dry needling, or
injection therapy. Dry needling is within the scope of
physical therapy practice in many countries including
Canada, Spain, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, the
Netherlands, and Switzerland. In the United States,
the physical therapy boards of eight states have ruled
that physical therapists can engage in the practice
of dry needling: New Hampshire, Maryland, Virginia,
South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, and
Colorado80. A promising new development used in the
diagnosis and treatment of MTrPs involves shockwave
therapy, but as of yet, there are no controlled studies
substantiating its use251,252.
Although MTrPs are a common cause of pain and
dysfunction in persons with musculoskeletal injuries
and diagnoses, the importance of MTrPs is not obvious
from reviewing the orthopedic manual therapy litera-
ture. Current scientific evidence strongly supports that
awareness and a working knowledge of muscle dysfunc-
tion; in particular, MTrPs should be incorporated into
manual physical therapy practice consistent with the
IFOMT guidelines for clinical practice. While there are
still many unanswered questions with regard to explain-
ing the etiology of MTrPs, this article provides manual
therapists with an up-to-date evidence-informed review
of the current scientific knowledge.
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... In all cases, myofascial trigger points are associated with areas in muscle that have stiff, tender nodules under palpation. It is believed that this stiffness might arise from hypercontracture of the sarcomere in this area [41, 42]. Histological examination of muscle biopsies from myofascial trigger points reveals structural evidence of muscle hypercontracture consistent with sustained sarcoplasmic reticulum calcium release due to intense neural activation and action potential generation [42]. ...
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Myofascial pain syndrome is an important health problem. It affects a majority of the general population, impairs mobility, causes pain, and reduces the overall sense of well-being. Underlying this syndrome is the existence of painful taut bands of muscle that contain discrete, hypersensitive foci called myofascial trigger points. In spite of the significant impact on public health, a clear mechanistic understanding of the disorder does not exist. This is likely due to the complex nature of the disorder which involves the integration of cellular signaling, excitation-contraction coupling, neuromuscular inputs, local circulation, and energy metabolism. The difficulties are further exacerbated by the lack of an animal model for myofascial pain to test mechanistic hypothesis. In this review, current theories for myofascial pain are presented and their relative strengths and weaknesses are discussed. Based on new findings linking mechanoactivation of reactive oxygen species signaling to destabilized calcium signaling, we put forth a novel mechanistic hypothesis for the initiation and maintenance of myofascial trigger points. It is hoped that this lays a new foundation for understanding myofascial pain syndrome and how current therapies work, and gives key insights that will lead to the improvement of therapies for its treatment.
Cognitive dissonance refers to a state where two psychologically inconsistent thoughts, behaviors, or attitudes are held at the same time. The objective of this study was to explore the potential role of cognitive dissonance in biomechanical loading in the low back and neck. Seventeen participants underwent a laboratory experiment involving a precision lowering task. To establish a cognitive dissonance state (CDS), study participants were provided negative feedback on their performance running counter to a pre-established expectation that their performance was excellent. Dependent measures of interest were spinal loads in the cervical and lumbar spines, calculated via two electromyography-driven models. The CDS was associated with increases to peak spinal loads in the neck (11.1%, p < 0.05) and low back (2.2%, p < 0.05). A greater CDS magnitude was also associated with a greater spinal loading increase. Therefore, cognitive dissonance may represent a risk factor for low back/neck pain that has not been previously identified.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the pulse oximeter is a key medical device for monitoring blood-oxygen levels non-invasively in patients with chronic or acute illness. It has also emphasised limitations in accuracy for individuals with darker skin pigmentation, calling for new methods to provide better measurements. The aim of our study is to identify the impact of skin pigmentation on pulse oximeter measurements. We also explored the benefits of a multi-wavelength approach with an induced change of arterial oxygen saturation. A total of 20 healthy volunteers were recruited. We used time domain diffuse reflectance spectroscopy (TDDRS) from a broad band light source, collecting spectra from the index finger along with three different pulse oximeters used simultaneously for monitoring purposes. Five acute hypoxic events were induced by administering 11% FiO2, produced by a Hypoxico altitude training system, for 120 sec through a face mask with a one-way valve. Our multi-wavelength approach revealed a correlation between the signature of skin pigmentation and the dynamic range of oxygen saturation measurements. Principal component analysis (PCA) showed separation between a range of different pigmented volunteers (PC1 = 56.00%) and oxygen saturation (PC2 = 22.99%). This emphasises the need to take into account skin pigmentation in oximeter measurements. This preliminary study serves to validate the need to better understand the impact of skin pigmentation absorption on optical readings in pulse oximeters. Multi-wavelength approaches have the potential to enable robust and accurate measurements across diverse populations.
Palpation is a diagnostic tool widely used by manual therapists despite its disputed reliability and validity. Previous studies have usually focused on the detection of myofascial trigger points (MTrPs), i.e., the points within muscles thought to have undergone molecular composition, oxygenation and structural changes, altering their tonicity. Time-domain near-infrared spectroscopy (TD-NIRS) could provide new insights into soft tissue oxygenation and structure, in order to objectively assess the validity and reliability of palpation. This pilot study aims at (1) assessing the ability of TD-NIRS to detect a difference between palpably normal and hypertonic upper trapezius (UT) muscles, and (2) to estimate the reproducibility of the TD-NIRS measurement on UT muscles. TD-NIRS measurements were performed on 4 points of the UT muscles in 18 healthy participants (10F, mean age: 27.6 years), after a physical examination by a student osteopath to locate these points and identify the most and least hypertonic. From TD-NIRS, the most hypertonic points had a higher concentration in deoxy- ([HHb]) (0.887 ± 0.253 μM, p < 0.001) and total haemoglobin ([HbT]) (1.447 ± 0.772 μM, p < 0.001), a lower tissue oxygen saturation (StO2) (-0.575 ± 0.286%, p < 0.001), and a greater scattering amplitude factor (AF) (0.2238 ± 0.1343 cm-1, p = 0.001) than the least hypertonic points. Moreover, the intraclass correlation coefficient one-way random-effects model (ICC (1,1)) calculated for each TD-NIRS parameter and for each point revealed an excellent reliability of the measurement (Mean ± SD, 0.9253 ± 0.0678). These initial results, showing that changes in TD-NIRS parameters correlate with changes in muscle tonicity as assessed by palpation, are encouraging and show that TD-NIRS could help to further assess the validity of palpation as a diagnostic tool in manual therapy.
Background Dry needling is one of the most common treatments for this condition. In this study the immediate and delayed effects of superficial dry needling (SDN) and deep dry needling (DDN) on upper trapezius muscle function and patients' pain and disability was evaluated. Methods In this quasi-experimental study, 47 women with active MTrPs were randomly divided into SDN and DDN groups and received one session treatment. Pain and disability were assessed before and one week after intervention with visual analogue scale (VAS) and neck disability index (NDI) questionnaire. Muscle activity was assessed by surface electromyography (sEMG) before, immediately and one week after intervention. Results Both groups showed significant decrease in VAS (p < 0.001) and NDI (p < 0.001) after one week, however no significant difference were found between the groups (p > 0.05). A significant increase in sEMG activity was observed only in DDN group after one week (p < 0.007), but there were no significant differences in sEMG activity in SDN group after intervention and between the two groups (p > 0.05). Conclusion Both SDN and DDN could be effective in reducing pain and disability in patients with active MTrPs of upper trapezius muscle. Regarding muscle function DDN seems to be more effective. So that based on evaluation of the therapist in some cases with not significant muscle dysfunction SDN as a gentle and less invasive method could be used but for long term effectiveness and in those with significant muscle dysfunction DDN could be used.
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Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of adding a supervised physical therapy exercise program to photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) in the treatment of cervicogenic somatosensory tinnitus (CST). Methods: Forty patients suffering from CST with age 45-55 years were included in the study. They were assigned randomly into 2 groups, 20 per each. (Study group) Group (A) received a supervised physical therapy exercise program in addition to 20 minutes PBMT with a 650-nanometer wavelength and a 5 milliWatt power output, spot size of 1 cm2, and energy density of 6 Joules, 3 sessions per week for 8 consecutive weeks, plus traditional medical treatment. While (control group), group (B) received the same PBMT protocol, 3 sessions per week for 8 consecutive weeks in addition to the traditional medical treatment. Tinnitus visual analog scaling (VAS), tinnitus handicap inventory (THI), and cervical range of motion (ROM) were measured at baseline and after 8 weeks. Results: Mixed MANOVA showed a statistically significant reduction in tinnitus VAS, THI, and a significant improvement in cervical ROM (flexion, extension, right bending, left bending, right rotation, and left rotation) in favor of Group A (P < .05). There was a significant decrease in posttreatment VAS treatment (P > .001) MD [-2.05(-2.68:-1.41)], and THI relative to pretreatment mean difference [-5.35(-8.51: -2.19)] and a significant increase in posttreatment neck ROM in Groups A and B relative to pretreatment neck ROM (P > .001). Flexion range posttreatment MD[3.65(1.64:5.65)], Extension MD [6.55(1.35:11.75)], right bending MD[3.8(2.51:5.08)], left bending MD[1.75(0.19:3.3)], right rotation MD [3.5(1.28:5.71)] and left rotation [2.75(0.67:4.82)]. Conclusions: Adding a supervised physical therapy exercise program to PBMT showed positive and beneficial effects in the treatment of CST using VAS, THI, and Cervical ROM assessment tools.
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Introduction Masticatory myofascial pain syndrome can present similarly to other dental conditions in odontogenetic structures. Endodontists should be familiar with the symptomology and pathophysiology of masticatory myofascial pain syndrome to avoid misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment, and medicolegal repercussions. The aim of this review is to provide a foundational summary for endodontists to identify and correctly manage masticatory myofascial pain syndrome. Methods A narrative review of literature was performed through a Medline search and a hand search of the major myofascial pain textbooks. Results Masticatory myofascial pain syndrome is a musculo-ligamentous syndrome that can present similarly to odontogenic pain, or refer pain to the eyebrows, ears, temporomandibular joints, maxillary sinus, tongue, and hard palate. Currently, the most comprehensive pathophysiology theory describing masticatory myofascial pain syndrome is the expanded integrated hypothesis. The most widely accepted diagnostic guideline for masticatory myofascial pain syndrome are the Diagnostic Criteria for Temporomandibular Disorders; however, their diagnostic capability is limited. There is no hierarchy of treatment methods as each patient requires a tailored and multi-disciplinary management aimed at regaining the muscle’s range of motion, deactivating the myofascial trigger points, and maintaining pain relief. Conclusions The pain patterns for masticatory myofascial pain syndrome are well known; however, there is a lack of consensus on the most proper method of trigger point diagnosis or pain quantification. The diagnostic strategies for masticatory myofascial pain syndrome vary, and the diagnostic aids are not well developed.
Pain is a common problem among elite athletes and is frequently associated with sport injury. Both pain and injury interfere with the performance of elite athletes. There are currently no evidence-based or consensus-based guidelines for the management of pain in elite athletes. Typically, pain management consists of the provision of analgesics, rest and physical therapy. More appropriately, a treatment strategy should address all contributors to pain including underlying pathophysiology, biomechanical abnormalities and psychosocial issues, and should employ therapies providing optimal benefit and minimal harm. To advance the development of a more standardised, evidence-informed approach to pain management in elite athletes, an IOC Consensus Group critically evaluated the current state of the science and practice of pain management in sport and prepared recommendations for a more unified approach to this important topic.
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Little is known about the role healthcare providers play in informing and discussing cannabis use with older adults. As part of our study concerning cannabis use among older Coloradans, we examined experiences and preferences among older adults and answered two questions: (a) what role are health care professionals playing and (b) what role should health care professionals assume relative to older patients and cannabis use? In this mixed method study, we convened 19 focus groups in 15 cities across Colorado. Participants first completed an 82 question survey and then discussed perspectives about the role of health care providers relative to the use of cannabis. 75 of 196 study respondents reported using cannabis for medical purposes in the past year. Among these, 51% participated in the state medical cannabis program, and only 10% obtained a physician recommendation to participate in the state program through their usual source of care. Survey responses indicated that older adults are learning about cannabis primarily through friends or family (44%) as compared to health care providers (12%). Focus group analysis revealed preferences contrary to these reported experiences. Older adults consistently discussed the need for more information and direction about cannabis from their personal healthcare providers. These results underscore the need for healthcare and public health officials to consider a more visible role in informing and educating older adults about cannabis. Future research should examine how individual outcomes related to cannabis use are shaped by receiving information and guidance from healthcare providers.
It is generally accepted that all forms of muscle pain in inherited or acquired muscle disorders result from alteration of the mesenchyma, such as in myositis and in necrotizing myopathies (muscular dystrophies, toxic myopathies, etc). Infiltration of the interstitial tissue especially by histiocytes produces irritation of the free sensory nerve endings. It is much more difficult to explain muscle pain in some forms of metabolic or endocrine myopathies in which there is necrosis and no inflammation. Transient exercise-induced metabolic disturbances can be assumed. In fibromyalgia, there is no evidence as to where the primary origin of the widespread pain is located in the muscle itself. Most of the morphologic findings are rather unspecific and presumably secondary. Ragged red fibers in some cases could suggest an atypical encephalomyopathic mitochondrial disorder. In myofascial pain syndromes local spasm causes local morphologic abnormalities very similar to mechanically induced muscle damage. In acute stages, they are accompanied by edema and in chronic forms by local fibrosis.
An attempt to introduce differential diagnosis of muscle spasm is proposed. Five types of muscle spasm are differentiated, resulting from dysfunction of the limbic system, spinal segmental dysfunction, trigger points, pain irritation, and muscle tightness. The importance of increased muscle tone in back pain disorders is stressed, and basic proposals for therapy are presented.
The question of muscle injury has not been discussed well in the medical literature. Muscles which are not strong, or are unused to specific, externally imposed demands, may be overloaded in their function as either a prime mover or by acting as a brake. The present study was based upon an objective study of the range of motion (ROM), manual muscle test (MMT), and the muscle 'trigger' location with its referred pain and paresthesia pattern, in one hundred consecutive victims of motor vehicular accidents. The purpose of this study was to determine if a correlation existed between the external forces of injury, and the muscles responding to those forces looking for evidence of weakness, shortening or trigger tenderness. The muscle 'trigger' appears to be a reliable, consistent, and useful marker to validate past muscle overload injury. The consistent finding of breakaway weakness on manual muscle testing (MMT) suggests the need for a new classification for overload of muscle. The term 5(b)/5 is suggested for breakaway muslce weakness.
This new edition of this highly successful book describes how musculoskeletal pain can be simply and effectively treated by acupuncture. Building on a thorough review of the scientific evidence available, the provides a detailed and practical account of the many different forms of musculoskeletal pain and the specific ways in which acupuncture can be applied effectively to trigger points to alleviate this pain. Case studies are included to aid diagnosis and choice of treatment. Evidence-based, up-to-date, and detailed information on trigger points, musculoskeletal pain, and the physiology of pain provide the most authoritative assessments available on this topic. Practical, step-by-step treatment guidelines help readers apply key concepts to actual practice. Clear illustrations demonstrate important techniques and areas of pain and needling. Expanded coverage of fibromyalgia and the neurophysiology of myofascial trigger points includes common symptoms and treatments. More information on new treatment options for the common problem of whiplash injuries. Expanded chapter on fibromyalgia Expanded chapter on the neurophysiology of myofascial trigger points Revised and updated throughout to include all relevant clinical trial information More information on whiplash injuries New chapter on complex regional pain syndromes.