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Trigger point

Pulling the trigger: Trigger points – what they are and how to identify them

Some people find the notion of a trigger point hard to comprehend. In it’s simplest explanation, a trigger point is to a muscle, what a stress fracture is to a bone. It is simply a thick knot in the muscle - a way that it reacts to being overloaded. Of course muscles can tear, or tendinitis can develop in a tendon, but mostly they develop a trigger point.

A trigger point can also be used be physiotherapist or coach to show an athlete that they know what they’re doing, by applying pressure to the area they suspect might cause a reaction.

How does anyone know they have a trigger point?

To the untrained eye (and hands) it can be somewhat difficult to figure out the answer to this question. However, a trigger point does have some distinct symptoms:

PAIN: Usually you will start to hurt somewhere. You may experience stiffness in a muscle or joint that has been overloaded, right through to sharp pains as inflammation signals that there has been tissue damage. Pain may appear at quite a distance from the trigger point, it may surface as a significant injury such as Achilles tendinitis or shoulder impingement or it will simply hurt like hell in the muscle or joint that has been overloaded.

MOTOR PATTERN CHANGE: On the other hand, the first time you may know about a trigger point is that things just don't feel 'right'; what was once a smooth action that had power behind it is now relatively clumsy and uncoordinated. Your lap times are down, and your coach has noticed it too. What has happened is that somewhere along the line your biomechanics have changed.

WEAKNESS: A muscle with one or more trigger points will lose its strength until the trigger point is treated. This is either because its nerve supply is compromised by the trigger point, or because the trigger point is causing a pain inhibition


Trigger points are very treatable but unfortunately slip under the radar of many coaches and athletes. Many muscular injuries can find their beginnings in trigger points and unnoticed turn into something far more serious. There is no ‘special advice’ about trigger points – just the usual stay stretched, supple and warm at all times of exercise. Preparation goes a long way to reducing the risk of trigger points.

Ulrik Larsen

Trigger point