What is the science behind Trigger Point deep muscle massage? Does it work? How many sessions does it take before you feel relief?

The answer to this question will include current, state-of-the-art research, as well as my and my colleagues’ clinical experience over several decades. I will address each of the three questions in sequence.


1) What is the science behind trigger point deep muscle massage?

There are several theories for the etiology/pathophysiology of trigger points and myofascial pain syndrome. Research continues on each, as none have yet been decisively proven.[1][2] Massage therapy (MT) has been studied extensively, and has been shown to produce objective effects most notably in those bodily systems which interact locally with the myofascial (muscle and connective tissue) systems.[3] These include the local circulatory systems, local and central nervous systems, and the lymphatic system within the immediate vicinity of the area worked on. It should be noted that the fascial structures, which encapsulate the contractile structures and tissues, exert mechanical forces upon the other associated structures, thus affecting their physiological function. MT (specifically ischemic compression and friction massage) has been shown to be effective in releasing myofascial trigger points.[5] MT also has minimal side effects, no drug interactions, is low cost, and often includes positive patient-practitioner relations (which lead to a positive and productive mentality during therapeutic treatment and rehabilitation).


2)  It does work. But how?

MT that successfully releases trigger points includes ischemic compression and friction massage. Ischemic compression involves holding pressure steadily on a trigger point until it softens/releases. Friction massage involves sliding the finger/hand/etc. along a (usually) venous direction of a muscle. This creates a vacuum/suction effect upon the circulation which quickly introduces freshened circulatory fluids to the area, and moves inflammatory chemicals present back into general circulation.[6] The freshened circulatory fluids include blood and lymph, which carry pain-relieving endorphins, as well as energy constituents for metabolic recovery for both the myofascial tissue and the neuromuscular junctions. Inflammatory chemicals removed include substance P, prostaglandins, bradykinin, etc.[7]

Dry Needling & Manual Trigger Point Therapy Courses and Training )

(image: Dry Needling & Manual Trigger Point Therapy Courses and Training)

If you’d like to see some of this for yourself, try this: locate the blue (venous) lines on the underside of your wrist. Press, then rub, slowly along the blue line toward the elbow. The blue line will go clear for a moment, then the blue, or venous, blood will return in a second or two. You have just performed friction massage to the veins which will drain blood and lymph from the tissues it serves. These tissues may contain nociceptive (pain inducing) and/or inflammatory biochemicals. If you flush the tissue of venous blood/lymph, creating a “quick-refresh” of arterial blood, the tissue will be flushed of painful biochemicals, while receiving pain-relieving biochemicals. This is the function of ischemic compression and friction massage for painful areas, including tissue with active trigger points.

3) How many sessions does it take before you feel relief?

If you have been properly diagnosed with MPS, and your practitioner is well-trained and experienced, you should feel immediate relief. Ischemic compression and/or friction massage releases a trigger point (and the attendant pain and tension) within a minute or two. If trigger points are extremely active, it may take several passes over an area to treat it completely.

There is a clinical understanding in our profession: the complex part of therapy is not releasing the patient’s pain (if you know what you are doing), but rather keeping them out of pain.

If your therapist is good, you will feel better, at least significantly, for a while. The task for you then is to:

  1. learn to do effective self-care to release the trigger points,
  2. stretch/strengthen the tissue, and
  3. track when the pain recurs, so that your practitioner can superimpose the timeline of recurrence with functional tasks, to possibly trace those tasks that need to be modified or eliminated (which will remove the trigger point’s perpetuating factor).

When these have been accomplished, you should be solidly on the road to recovery. Progress often follows a “two steps forward, one step back” pattern, as perpetuating factors are gradually eliminated and the tissue rehabilitates successfully. How long that will take depends on many factors: your age, general health, metabolic factors, stress levels, fitness, ergonomic factors, daily functional tasks, diet, sleep, emotional state, etc. Your doctor and therapist should help you to minimize the impact of triggers, and also to bolster those areas of overall healthy living that need help. If symptoms don’t improve noticeably within several weeks, you should seek other opinions and help.


[1] “Etiology of Myofascial Trigger Points,” article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine website.


[2] “Uncovering the biochemical milieu of myofascial trigger points using in vivo microdialysis: an application of muscle pain concepts to myofascial pain syndrome,” article on the Science Direct website.


[3] “Physiological and clinical changes after therapeutic massage of the neck and shoulders,” Article on the Science Direct website.


[4] “The Effects of Pressure Release, Phonophoresis of Hydrocortisone, and Ultrasound on Upper Trapezius Latent Myofascial Trigger Point,” article on the Science Direct website.


[5] “The muscular force transmission system: Role of the intramuscular connective tissue,” article on the Science Direct website.


[6] Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual, pg. 86.


[7] “Changes in Blood Flow and Cellular Metabolism at a Myofascial Trigger Point With Trigger Point Release (Ischemic Compression): A Proof-of-Principle Pilot Study,” article on the Science Direct website.


What do you do to stay productive all day?

What do you do to stay productive all day?

The answers to this will be a bit subjective, due to the demands and personal makeup of our different lives. As a 46yo woman, wife, mother, business owner, muscle therapist, etc., here are some things that help keep me on track.

  1. Good sleep. This cannot be overstated, and I am fierce about not only the quantity (min. 6 hours, 8 best), but the quality. I spend an hour with a hot bath and soothing music and meditation to calm my body and mind down before going to bed. I have a great bed and pillow, and I make sure that I am warm and comfortable during sleep. Consequently, I fall deeply asleep about 2 minutes after hitting the pillow, and I wake up when the alarm goes off, refreshed and ready for the day. Well, after one cup of coffee.
  2. Morning exercise. I have a pretty rigid schedule, but I find that 30 minutes of morning exercise (minimum) in a natural setting, such as a walk on the beach (or somewhere similarly enjoyable) clears away the “cobwebs” physically and mentally, and I feel like it gives me a jump-start on increased energy for the rest of the day. It clears my mind of clutter and makes me feel ready to face the day’s challenges calmly. It works better for me first thing in the morning, because I tend to be too busy or tired later in the day, when it’s easier to blow off.
  3. Good nutrition. I have high physical and mental demands on me during my workday, and I am sensitive to drops in blood glucose levels (runs in my family). I try to get good quality food (nutritious, moderate fat/sugar/salt intake) at even 2-4 hour intervals throughout the day. Low-fat protein sources, such as soy milk or miso, tend to help me stay awake and alert.
  4. Productive use of downtime. I have been trying to make a habit of meditating for up to 15-minute intervals through the day during “waiting” periods. These can include the time between appointments, end of the workday, during a bath, etc. Allowing myself to try to “drain of thought” is like a deep breath of refreshing air for my whole self. Which leads me to:
  5. Take notes. I have always found it difficult to give myself permission to jot down a note (on paper, Post-its, Evernote, my wrist, etc.) to remember something trivial (calling a friend, picking up something at the store, etc). I do not remember these things well while working. When I’ve written the note, I no longer feel the weight of trying to remember, and I can concentrate better on the moment at hand.
  6. Regular time with family and friends. We make a family habit of eating together and watching a movie together every night. Yes, every night. This requires a fair bit of compromise on all our parts. We have never regretted it, and you don’t ever get the time with your kids back to do over. It makes for a grateful, peaceful evening. As regularly as possible, we try to get together with friends about whom we care deeply.  Scheduling ahead helps. Again, we’re never sorry we did, and good times and lasting friendships are shared by all.

Rinse, repeat.

Why am I getting headaches when I make long phone calls?

From a reader:

Why am I getting headaches when I make long phone calls? Why do they last up to a week before the pain starts to go away? It’s hard to get to sleep with such pain, and even when I do sleep, the pain is still there when I wake up. Is this dangerous for me? Are there any health concerns?

My answer:

First, you should definitely see a physician. Make that appointment ASAP! 😉

That being said, a likely scenario is activated trigger points in the muscles of the neck and shoulder (most likely the upper trapezius, splenius capitus, splenius cervicis, and suboccipitals). These are the muscles that produce this very familiar posture:

Headaches from long phone calls

How often do we see and DO this on any given day? This action strains the muscles and the connective tissue (myofascia) mentioned above because they are probably not used to, and are definitely not “designed for,” the sustained contraction shown above.

Let’s go through the pain patterns that emerge when these various muscles undergo repetitive strain (which leads to active trigger point referral patterns):

1) Upper trapezius:

Pain in the upper trapezius muscle

2) Splenius capitus:

Splenius capitis

3) Splenius cervicis:

Splenius cervicis

4) Suboccipitals:


(Credit for all of these medical illustrations belongs to Barbara D. Cummings, the illustrator for Travell and Simons’ “Trigger Point Manual.” She had an extraordinary gift for giving the viewer an accurate, literal view of subjective pain.)

ALL of these muscles are engaged in the posture in the first picture, where someone is holding a phone between their head/ear and their shoulder. You have to hold it there somehow, right? Well, these are the muscles that do it for you, and they are most probably strained and activated through prolonged, static holding of this posture.

The most obvious way to help prevent this from happening again is by correcting the problematic posture that strains these muscles:

  1. Keep your head upright and your neck straight on prolonged conversations.

  2. Switch which hand holds the phone, so that you are not constantly loading the same muscles on the same side (thereby straining them). Give them a rest by using the similar muscles on the opposite side, then switch again when they get tired.

  3. Give yourself a few moments to slowly take your head and shoulders through their comfortable range-of-motion, in order to restore circulation and re-establish normal resting length for the muscles. This involves making SLOW circles, or moving the head in opposing directions (i.e., up/down & right/left).

Also, if the calls tend to be especially stressful, give yourself “breaks” every 5-10 minutes to disengage for at least 60 seconds. If needed, perhaps mention that you must take a moment to attend to something personal (letting the cat in, a call on the other line, etc.), then take that moment to:

  1. Consciously relax any tension you feel. For example, try tensing your muscles for 5 seconds while holding your breath, then exhale while relaxing those muscles (2-3 times in a row). This is a simple biofeedback technique.

  2. Imagine the tension as something physical (smoke, dirty water, etc.) draining out of your feet into the floor/ground. This is a simple meditative/visualisation technique.

  3. Give yourself permission to drop as much tension as you can, and to breathe as slowly, deeply, and as relaxed as you can manage. This is a simple cognitive behavioral therapy technique.

When ready, resume conversation. 🙂

If you would like to know some relatively easy ways to relax your muscles and stop the pain, and your physician has cleared you to do such exercises as the above (no contraindications), see my blog post How can I reduce knots in my shoulders (trapezius muscles)?

Good luck, truly. I think a great deal of people are struggling with this right now.

How can I reduce knots in my shoulders (trapezius muscles)?

From a reader:

How can I reduce knots in my shoulders (trapezius muscles)? I work at a computer most of the day, and have tight knots in my shoulders; specifically, in my trapezius muscles. How can I reduce the tension in these muscles, without having someone else massage them? Are there self-massage techniques I can use? What are appropriate stretches?


My answer:

EVERYBODY gets tension (and sometimes, pain) in the neck and shoulders as well as in between the shoulder blades. This has, of course, increased in these times when we’re all looking down and hunching up at our phones and laptops. Here’s how to get rid of it. Based on the reader’s questions, I’ve broken up my answer into 3 sections below.


How do I reduce tension in these muscles?

This is the most important question. You could have the best therapist to resolve the tension for a time, but if you continue to do the actions that result in the tension and pain, they will just keep coming back and probably keep getting worse.

The most common problem that exacerbates tension and pain in the neck and shoulders is holding the neck in an unnatural position. The two most common are looking down for extended periods and craning the neck and head forward (most probably to focus on miniscule print on a device such as a smartphone or laptop). The answer is to figure out how to keep the head as upright and without rotation as possible, while you relax your shoulders and arms at your sides.

The trapezius itself is, ironically, not the most common cause of neck/shoulder pain in the curve of the shoulder (the levator scapula is). However, TrP1 (Trigger Point 1) at the curve of the neck/shoulder is one of the myofascial TrPs observed the most often [1]:

Trigger Point 1

There are about seven common trigger points located in the upper, middle and lower portions of the trapezius muscle:

Trigger points located in the trapezius muscle

Point 7 (x) produces pilomtor activity or “gooseflesh” to the upper extremity [2]

Trapezius trigger point 7

“In study of static loading, Bearns (1961) discovered that the upper fibers of trapezius, contrary to universal teaching, ‘play no active part in the support of the shoulder girdle in the relaxed upright posture.” [3]


Are there self-massage techniques I can use?


FIRST, you must have been assured by a proper diagnostician (MD/DO) that there are no problems (such as a herniated disc, bone spurs, etc.) that will constantly madden the nerves that feed the musculature of the neck and shoulder. If there is such an inflammatory component, anything I write here will be transitory because the true cause has not been addressed. My suggestions below can temporarily interrupt the pain signal, which has benefit, but ALL pieces of the problem must be addressed to have lasting comfort.

First, it is very helpful to heat the area first. This will dilate blood and lymph vessels, bringing an influx of fresh blood into the area. It will also soften the connective tissue (fascia) that surrounds and binds the muscle fibers and heads, which will make the whole area more amenable to stretching. This step also prepares the tissue for massage (flushing) of the inflammatory chemicals that are making it hurt.

You can use a couple Swedish massage techniques to soften and relax the tissue. These are friction (rubbing along the fiber) and kneading (like with bread dough). For more information, see my blog entry What is the difference between kneading, rolling, percussion, and vibration?

For trigger point deactivation, you can use point-compression with fingertip(s) or a pressure tool (such as a backnobber or theracane):

Using a backnobber

You can also use a tennis or pinky ball against a wall, but they are notoriously difficult to use on the curve of the shoulder. I’ve found the backnobber to be the most useful. It’s only $30, and the product and subsequent comfort can last the rest of your life (no affiliation, just a big, big fan of one of the coolest designs EVER!) [4]

Here’s what you do:

  1. Find the trigger point (any “x” in the above diagrams) that produces the pain pattern that you have, or alternately find a knot in a band of muscle in the curve of the neck/shoulder.

  2. Heat first!

  3. Apply pressure with a fingertip or tool, just enough to “feel it,” and HOLD for 15-60 seconds, until it feels like it is “dissolving/softening,” or until it feels “done.”

  4. Apply the same technique to adjacent and associated trigger points

  5. At this point, you MUST take the muscles released through their normal resting range of motion!


What are appropriate stretches?

This is a tricky one for the neck and shoulder, which have an astonishing array of motion capabilities.

PLEASE NOTE: The exercises below will NOT help and will probably be painful and/or harmful if the tissue is not softened first. Before doing any of the below stretches, follow steps 1 and 2 above. Take it slow and EASY, and remember to breathe. Do NOT make it hurt, just stop at the first point of stretch and relax into it.

Stretches that are most helpful for neck/shoulder pain are as follows:

Stretches helpful for neck and shoulder pain (points 4-7)

(points 4-7)

Stretches helpful for neck and shoulder pain (points 5-7)

(points 5-7)

Stretches helpful for neck and shoulder pain

If you follow the steps above, you should get immediate, long-lasting relief from neck/shoulder pain from computer use. If you do not, it’s time to see a pain-management doctor. Don’t wait. The longer these muscles go on in an inflamed, irritated, shortened state, the longer it takes to deactivate and rehabilitate them.

Ultimately, the triggers must be eliminated, the tissue must be softened/relaxed/deactivated, and then it must be strengthened within its current capability.

[1] Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction; the Trigger Point Manual, Travell and Simons, pg.184

[2] Ibid., pg.186

[3] Muscles Alive; Their Functions Revealed by Electromyography, John V. Basmajian, Carlo J. DeLuca, pg.266

[4] The Pressure Positive Company

Are dental guards and occlusal splints really effective to treat Bruxism (teeth grinding)?

As long as the guards / splints are well designed and worn consistently, they can be effective for those people who grind so badly that they damage their teeth. Ill-fitting splints, however, can create more problems than they solve (besides which, they are rarely worn because they are uncomfortable).

In my practice, the most common problems I’ve seen with splints is that they are too big. This throws off the placement of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) which then makes the muscles of the jaw (most notably the masseter and pterygoid muscles) painful and tight. Very often, the tension in these muscles feeds into the grinding through muscle tension and heightened activation.

In the below diagrams, the red areas indicate the primary patterns of pain associated with bruxism. In the first diagram, the muscle drawn at the back of the jaw is the masseter, which is the main chewing muscle. You can easily feel this muscle when clenching your jaw:

Masseter muscle

Bruxism also affects the medial and lateral pterygoid muscles:

The medial and lateral pterygoid muscles

which are very difficult to reach, but important to treat for TMJ pain and bruxism.

There is a good product out now for self-treatment of the muscles of the jaw, called The MyoFree Solution:

The MyoFree Solution

Very often, if you deactivate trigger points in the jaw and restore normal tone and resting length, the bruxism reduces or is eliminated entirely.

In the meantime, though, let your dentist know that the splint is uncomfortable, and ask them to reexamine the fitting. Good luck!

Why do we get knots in our back muscles, but not in other areas (e.g. arms or legs)?

Why do we get knots in our back muscles, but not in other areas (e.g. arms or legs)?

“Muscle knots,” otherwise known as trigger points, can occur in any muscle of the body when that muscle is used improperly or damaged. With repeated misuse or damage, the affected sarcomeres (contracting fibers) can “lock” into immobility and inflammation of varying levels. Online research of any skeletal muscle of the body reveals images of trigger point pain patterns for that muscle. (Various muscles associated with locations of pain throughout the body are shown here too: National Association of Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists | Symptom Checker)

Current wisdom on this subject is as follows: “The presence of CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide) drives the system to become chronic, potentiating the motor endplate response and potentiating, with SubstanceP, activation of muscle nociceptors. The combination of acidic myofascial pH and proinflammatory mediators at the active trigger point contributes to segmental spread of nociceptive input into the dorsal horn of the spinal cord and leads to the activation of multiple receptive fields. Neuroplastic changes in dorsal horn neurons occur in response to constant nociceptive barrage, causing further activation of neighboring and regional dorsal horn neurons that now have lowered thresholds. This results in the observed phenomena of hypersensitivity, allodynia, and referred pain that is characteristic of the active myofascial trigger point.” 1

To put it in simpler clinical terms, an active trigger point that is referring pain will activate (as a result of tissue metabolism and biochemistry altering the nociceptive threshold) associated soft tissue and neural regions through neuroplasticity.

1. An expansion of Simons’ integrated hypothesis of trigger point formation (pg. 474, 1st P.)

When you’re injured and something is swollen, why is it good to ice it?

When you’re injured and something is swollen, why is it good to ice it?

Your body’s soft tissue includes muscle, fascia (connective tissue), nerves, blood vessels, and lymph vessels, predominantly. When this soft tissue is injured (via bruise, tear, sprain, etc.), it is like a bunch of broken fluid pipes that require the “pressure” to be turned off until the pipe can heal enough to resume stable and reliable function. To reduce this pressure, short, local applications of cold are called for.

The effects this has on the injured joints, bursae, or fascia include:

  • vasoconstriction of blood and lymph vessels, which squeezes out excess plasma and lymph from the site of damage and helps control hemorrhage and hyper-edema (excessive swelling), and
  • brief analgesia, or relief from pain, which may help moderate the inflammatory response from excessive to helpful.

What we’re going for here is modulation of the inflammatory response from over-reactive to measured. This allows the tissue to begin healing in the most helpful bio-environment possible. When applied properly, cold will accelerate the healing rate via beneficial tissue metabolic activity and enhanced return to comfortable function.

1. Hydrotherapy; Theory and Technique, 3d Edition; Patrick Barron; Pine Island Publishers, 2003; pg 72

How does one transition from a narcotic-based pain-management system to one that is non-narcotic-based? How do the two compare?

How does one transition from a narcotic-based pain-management system to one that is non-narcotic-based? How do the two compare?

The most important thrust of the question is: “I’d really like to come off the narcotics but I have no idea what else would successfully cover my pain.” THIS is what is facing most people in the midst of chronic pain: they don’t want to become addicted to pain medications, but they can’t function without them.  What effective alternatives are there?

This is a really great question, and it is one of the questions dominating focus, research, debate and policy in pain management today. Narcotics work very, very well: they “turn off” the pain signal, so that you don’t perceive it through your sensory nervous system. This is a delight for the pain patient who is constantly suffering. “A relief from that pain? Heck yeah, sign me up!”

The problem that pain management clinicians and researchers are struggling with is the “activation threshold” of pain. That is, when you dampen the pain signal over time, your system adjusts to that factor, and then the pain threshold lowers, UNLESS you have the medication intervening. Which means you need higher doses of your medication to achieve the same level of relief from pain.

Initially, this means that you can essentially do more with less pain. Yay, right? Not necessarily. What if, even while you feel less pain, you do more damage to the mechanical tissues of your body because you can’t feel the painful feedback your body sends to tell you you’re hurting it? If this happens, it usually results in further injury. For example, let’s say you have a torn muscle in your leg. You numb it with narcotics so that you can run on it. While you don’t feel the pain caused by running on the leg with the torn muscle, this exercise, in this state, almost guarantees extra damage to the torn muscle.

This brings up the crucial factor with which all researchers and clinicians struggle: What is actually causing the pain, both anatomically and physiologically? How did it start? What sustains it? How does one address both anatomy and physiology without making the patient increasingly dependent on medication for relief, or hopefully, recovery?

For this, you need a case director (usually MD/DO) who is well educated and experienced with a BROAD variety of treatment options. These options need to include “alternatives” such as chiropractic, acupuncture, biofeedback and advanced manual therapy. All of these techniques (tools in the therapeutic toolbox, if you will) do have limited studies done regarding their efficacy. The best “director” for your case will be an advanced MD/DO who has been apprised of those studies, and who also has had significant clinical experience with these “tools” and their benefits.

They will know how to best reduce your current medication (possibly in favor of one with lesser side-effects) and also how best to integrate effective “alternative” techniques into your treatment plan and its goals. These goals, often including comfortable and effective resumption of activities of daily living (ADLs) are superimposed with medication dosages in order to determine their therapeutic efficacy.

A good place to start finding a knowledgeable physician to guide your case is with the American Academy of Pain Management. The AAPM is the only institution to currently accredit those in multidisciplinary pain management, and they are committed to an interdisciplinary approach.

If you are merely exploring competent practitioners in alternative methods, PLEASE study their CVs, license, certifications and experience. I would recommend distrusting anyone who says, “Oh, I can cure you; the technique I use is the only one that works.” NO technique is a panacea – NONE. If they can’t discuss the strengths and limitations (almost more important) of their technique, then they are downright dangerous to you.

You need a good guide. That’s what a great pain management doctor does. Go find yourself one! Best of luck.

What can cause muscles to be sore for weeks to the point that they're painful when used?

What can cause muscles to be sore for weeks to the point that they’re painful when used?

Unfortunately, there are quite a few diagnoses that are relevant to muscle soreness and weakness beyond a week’s span. Be sure to have a physician examine you to at least rule out some of the more basic physiological diseases.

Once those are cleared satisfactorily, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Was there a precipitating event? That is, did it happen all of a sudden? If so, how?

  2. Where in the body did the pain originate? What was the quality of the pain (sharp/burning/dull & aching/sore/tingling/numbness)?

  3. How long did the pain last?

If the pain began with a precipitating event (e.g. “I lifted something;” “I slept funny;” “I twisted in the shower;” “I leapt to catch a ball;” etc.), it usually indicates a sprain or strain to muscle, tendon, or ligament. If you hear a “pop” or “crack” in a joint, it is most likely a connective tissue rupture. If this is the case, you will need a good interview by a sports medicine physician (MD/DO) and probably a scan of some kind (x-ray or CAT scan for bony/cartilage tissues; MRI for muscle/tendon/ligament tissues). This will help to determine what damage, if any, has been done, and if the issue warrants surgery and/or therapeutic intervention. This needs to be your first port-of-call for pain lasting longer than 1-2 weeks.

Once you have determined that there is minimal damage, and therefore, that surgery is unwarranted, you can determine that the cause is one of the following:

  1. Not normal delayed onset muscle soreness (lasting 24-72 hours): See my answer to What causes delayed onset muscle soreness?

  2. A sprain or strain: See Sprains, Strains and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries

  3. If there are multiple areas around the initial location of pain and injury, you may have developed myofascial pain syndrome: “Myofascial pain syndrome typically occurs after a muscle has been contracted repetitively. This can be caused by repetitive motions used in jobs or hobbies or by stress-related muscle tension. While nearly everyone has experienced muscle tension pain, the discomfort associated with myofascial pain syndrome persists or worsens.”

Myofascial pain syndrome (Mayo Clinic)

As a bit of an aside, sub-acute (1-6 months) and chronic (more than 6 months) of myofascial pain are treated thus:

“A successful treatment protocol relies on identifying trigger points, resolving them and, if all trigger points have been deactivated, elongating the structures affected along their natural range of motion and length. In the case of muscles, which is where most treatment occurs, this involves stretching the muscle using combinations of passive, active, active isolated (AIS), muscle energy techniques (MET), and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching to be effective. Fascia surrounding muscles should also be treated, possibly with myofascial release, to elongate and resolve strain patterns, otherwise muscles will simply be returned to positions where trigger points are likely to re-develop.

The results of manual therapy are related to the skill level of the therapist. If trigger points are pressed too short a time, they may activate or remain active; if pressed too long or hard, they may be irritated or the muscle may be bruised, resulting in pain in the area treated. This bruising may last for a 1–3 days after treatment, and may feel like, but is not similar to, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the pain felt days after overexerting muscles. Pain is also common after a massage if the practitioner uses pressure on unnoticed latent or active trigger points, or is not skilled in myofascial trigger point therapy.” (Wiki: Trigger point)

(PS – I’m really proud of the Wiki on this. They nailed it, spot on.)

In a standard clinical interview, you have to go over all the aforementioned patient history, physicians’ reports, scans and anything else you can tell or show the practitioner about what may be the cause of the pain. Your practitioner can then figure out what muscles do the motion that produced the injury & other perpetuating factors, which allows the practitioner to decide what to treat first. This is the general clinical starting point for therapeutic focus.

How do I know whether or not a stretching exercise could actually hurt my body?

Very simply. The best way to ascertain if a stretching exercise is hurting you is … wait for it … if it hurts to do it.

Your body is actually quite adept at letting you know if it is being hurt. It is “wired” with sensors that send your brain pain signals if damage is occurring. If a stretch you are doing results in a sharp twinge or an “uh-oh” kind of sensation, it is best to STOP that stretch, and to also leave off similar stretches to that muscle and its myotatic group (associated muscles).

Rest is to follow, as well as ice applied to those muscles (to reduce swelling and inflammation). An anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen (Tylenol) may also be called for. If symptoms are severe, naproxen (Alleve) can be especially helpful in the short-term. Please consult a physician if you are not sure what to take or are concerned about drug interactions or side effects, or if you have other significant health issues.