It might not be common knowledge, but headaches and migraines can sometimes be attributed to stress-induced “knots” in the back of the head, neck, and shoulder. Said areas are referred to as trigger points. The knots may cause pain directly or may cause pain to spread to other parts of the body (also called referred pain).
Oftentimes, trigger points are formed when blood flow is reduced and metabolic wastes are not exchanged for nutrients and oxygen. Or, they may form when micro-tears happen in tissue and fibrotic scar tissue starts to form.
When this occurs repeatedly, the trigger points will form knots that can be felt in the muscle tissue. Potential trigger points can also become activated by trauma, inflammation, infections, nerve pain, muscle overuse, and electrolyte imbalances.
Headache and Migraine Symptoms
Depending on the myofascial trigger point’s location, it can cause referred pain like migraines or tension headaches. Some of the common symptoms of migraine and headaches include:
- Head pain
- Aura or visual effects
- Neck and shoulder stiffness or pain
Auras are considered symptoms of the nervous system. The nervous system plays a central role in the sensation of pain. Chronic pain from trigger pains can make the central nervous system more sensitive to pain nerves firing. Some studies also suggest that trigger points in the shoulder or neck may cause chronic headaches.
Trigger Point Therapy
One migraine and headache treatment that has proven effective is trigger point therapy. Trigger point therapy is designed specifically to relieve pain using cycles of isolated pressure and release.
Trigger point therapy also alleviates pain by releasing constricted areas in the muscles, and allowing them to return to their normal resting length. Many patients report a significant decrease in pain after just one session.
Compared to normal healthy muscles, muscles with active trigger points are weaker and often won’t be able to move through their full range of motion. When unable to perform their normal function, other muscles will have to compensate and help perform the compromised muscle’s activity. If not treated accordingly, the secondary muscles can also develop trigger points and become painful themselves.
There are various reasons for the tightening of the muscles. Some of the reasons include magnesium deficiency, stress, and habits or jobs that involve repetitive motions. Areas of high tension can also develop when the nerves that supply muscles become irritated. This can frequently occur when someone has poor posture or spinal bones that have become fixated or misaligned.
Trigger point therapy will allow the trigger points as well as their associated muscles to relax, and this can alleviate referred pains like headaches or migraines. Aside from the effective treatment of migraines and headaches, trigger point therapy has also been proven effective for:
- Back pain
- Shoulder pain
- Neck pain
- Muscle pain
- Joint Pain
- Knee Pain
Understandably, response to trigger point therapy can vary from one person to another. Generally however, current conditions or recent injuries will only require a few trigger point therapy sessions to fix.
Chronic conditions that involve severe pain on the other hand may require intense initial treatment followed by several weekly sessions to maintain improvement. Check with your preferred provider to see what type of treatment best suits you.