Inflamed muscles are a common cause of neck and back pain. Understanding the conditions that make you vulnerable to this muscle injury can help you take steps to reduce your risks and protect your neck and back.
The medical term for muscle pain is myofascial pain syndrome (MPS). “Myo” means muscle tissue and “fascia” refers to the connective tissue supporting the muscle structure. Muscle pain occurs when the fascia covering the muscles becomes injured and inflamed. The large diamond-shaped trapezius muscle that covers our neck, shoulders, and upper back is particularly vulnerable to muscle injury. We explain trigger point causes and what’s happening in muscle tissue when you feel that painful twinge.
How the knots form
Muscle inflammation can be caused by repetitive strain, lack of muscle activity, or a direct muscle injury. When muscles are stressed or injured, they often form tender “trigger points” that feel like dense tight knots in the muscle tissue. Pressure on a trigger point causes the muscle fibers to shorten and be painful to the touch. And this can send “referred pain” radiating out to other areas of the body. For example, pressure on a trigger point in the trapezius at the top of your shoulder can refer pain up the side of your neck and head, triggering headache pain. In addition to pressure, activity, and stress can also aggravate trigger point pain.
Categories of trigger points
There are two types of trigger points.
- An active trigger point is a knot of muscle that is extremely tender and causes local or regional referred pain.
- A latent trigger point generally does not cause pain unless you press on it, but has the potential to become active if aggravated by muscle overload, fatigue, illness, or stress. Latent trigger points sometimes cause muscle weakness or restricted movement.
What are some trigger point causes?
When trigger points form in our muscles, symptoms can include pain, stiffness, tension, physical limitation, and the loss of normal function. A number of factors can make us more vulnerable to the formation of trigger points. These include:
- Repetitive overuse injuries caused by repeating the same movement over and over again on a daily basis.
- Sustained periods of heavy lifting, including activities such as carrying a baby, walking with a briefcase, or lifting dead weight.
- Habitually poor posture during computer work.
- Muscle clenching and tensing caused by emotional stress.
- Injuries sustained in traumatic events like a car accident, sports collision, or fall.
- Inactivity such as prolonged bed rest or sitting.
Trigger point treatment and self-care tips
Summit Orthopedics is home to the area’s top spine specialists for trigger point treatment. You can use massage, anti-inflammatories, and heat or ice at home to try to ease and release these muscle knots. If your pain doesn’t resolve, Summit Orthopedics neck and back specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to provide pain relief and help you reclaim your range of motion.
Start your journey to a healthy spine: Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at 651-968-5201 to schedule a spine consultation.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise
Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.
Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a spine consultation.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
Spine related resources
- Visit our Spine Exercise Library for options to help ease neck and back pain
- See Summit’s treatment options for neck, back, and spine care
- Check out additional information on Summit’s approach to spine care
More resources for you
- Read the article How do Trigger Points Lead to Neck Pain?
- Don’t “T. Rex” At Your Desk
- Proper Lifting Techniques Protect Your Spine
- Meet Pain Interventionalist Dr. Santos