Back pain is never fun, and it plagues almost everyone at some point in life. It is a condition that several easily inflicted injuries can cause. While the entirety of the back is subject to pain induced by an injury, there also exists the risk of damaging a trigger point. Regardless of how your back was injured, the biggest challenge is managing and treating the subsequent pain. If you have been injured in a way that strains a trigger point as well as standard back pain, treatment can be a little more complicated than simple physical therapy. In some cases, the injury requires trigger point injections to help cope and alleviate the pain at all.
What are trigger point injections? How can they help alleviate back pain? Read on to find out as we explore the subject in this article.
What are Trigger Points?
If you are suffering from back pain, you might not be fully aware of the specifics of what part of your back is being strained. In some cases, your body develops myofascial trigger points (MTrPs) or “trigger points.” The MTrPs are essentially bundles of hyperirritable points in the skeletal muscle that have become overly taut. Dr. Janet Travell originally coined the term in 1942 to describe specific abnormal symptoms patients were exhibiting. These trigger points can be caused by aging, a lack of exercise, poor posture, chronic stress, poor sleep, and vitamin deficiencies. So, if you have developed trigger points within your skeletal structure, it is likely due to one of these factors.
The symptoms associated with trigger points vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the knot. However, there are some similar signs and symptoms associated with them. Among the more common symptoms are headaches, stiffness, and even whole body aches that are often misidentified as unrelated to the trigger points themselves.
There are also a few uncommon symptoms like a loss of balance, muscle weakness, tenderness around the trigger point, radiating pain, and a decreased range of overall motion. Unfortunately, these symptoms are shared amongst other conditions, and you might mistake your trigger points for something else. This confusion is not helped by the fact that trigger points can be more difficult to diagnose than they really should be.
The biggest diagnostic issue with trigger points is that most medical practitioners cannot agree on the definition of a trigger point, meaning there is room for interpretation. However, if you are experiencing these symptoms and your physician cannot identify a root cause, the odds of a trigger point being the culprit go up. Once you have identified trigger points as the cause of your ailment, it boils down to what can be done about it. Fortunately, treatment options do exist.
First-Line Treatment: Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is a time-tested option for tending to a wide array of physical ailments that arise throughout one’s life. Back pain is no exception, as physical therapy has been used in its treatment for years with rising success rates. When it comes to pain stemming from trigger points, physical therapy offers a few options that can help reduce the strain of the injury and make the pain a little more manageable. However, physical therapy cannot eliminate the trigger points entirely, and going in with that mentality will only lead to disappointment.
Currently, the physical therapy options for treating trigger points include simple exercise to reorient one’s posture and reduce the risk of trigger points forming and growing further. Another option includes kinesiology taping, which involves using a specialized adhesive to alleviate some of the pressure being put on the muscles forming the trigger point. There are also more standard options like simple massage or even dry needling.
Ultimately, despite the numerous benefits physical therapy offers for one’s physical health, its use for tending to trigger points is unfortunately limited. Despite this, some alternatives can prove even more effective in alleviating your symptoms, though permanent relief is not likely.
Alternative Treatment: Trigger Point Injections
Trigger point injection treatments are a much more effective method for treating the points and alleviating their symptoms. These injections involve the direct injection of anesthetic or saline solution into the trigger point. In some cases, even corticosteroids are used. It might seem scary to have a needle injecting a solution of any kind into an already painful part of your body, but the injections are guided with ultrasound imaging technology to ensure the anesthetic or saline solution gets to where it is supposed to be.
The injections themselves are administered at your physician’s office and typically only take a few minutes at maximum. The best part is that a brief battery of treatments tends to lead to sustained relief. In addition, the injections alleviate the pain your trigger points generate regularly and can even restore your range of motion despite the underlying issue.
However, the results will vary from patient to patient as with all treatment types. For example, some people will immediately feel significant pain relief and can return to a semi-normal physical routine directly after their injections. In contrast, others might not feel any relief for days or weeks at a time before the pain levels start to go down.
There was a study conducted in 2019 that researched the effects of injections into trigger points to understand their effects better. The study’s subjects consisted of individuals suffering from abdominal muscle pain. After two years following the initial injection, most reported that they began to experience significant pain relief, though five of the subjects required a supplementary injection to reap the benefits. The final subject felt no response to the injections and experienced no pain relief.
Despite the differing responses patients experience from trigger point injections, the benefits they offer are undeniable. The main benefit, of course, is pain relief. However, trigger point injections do not necessarily mean pain relief solely for the injection site but also spread throughout the body and have the potential to alleviate pain and discomfort for other parts of your body. Once the pain of the afflicted area has been alleviated, you can regain the functionality of the previously damaged part of your body. While pain relief is the most prominent and essential benefit TPIs offer the patient, it is not the only one.
In addition to pain relief, trigger point injection treatment offers you the ability to return to your daily life instantly. There is no recovery period after your injections, and you do not have to delay any of your obligations after the treatment is complete. This is especially true for those who enjoy immediate results from the injections and do not have to worry about pain flare-ups from the trigger points. However, even if you are not feeling any pain due to the injections alleviating it, you should avoid straining yourself with overly taxing physical labor.
Perhaps the second most important aspect of trigger point injections is that they are a viable treatment option for all the conditions that induce the formation of trigger points in the human body. However, they are also viable for use against conditions that emulate the pain of trigger points but do not necessarily involve the creation of such points in the body. Conditions like fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel, osteoarthritis, and even injuries caused by accidents in sporting events may be treatable by trigger point injection.
The growing list of benefits for trigger point injection treatments against all sorts of pain-inducing conditions and issues is proving to be a testament to the evolution of pain management. While not all pain conditions the treatment is used for are limited to back pain, back pain is one of the most prevalent and important that it is used to treat. However, despite the rapid and effective results trigger point injections offer, they are still subject to the same potential issues that any other form of treatment might bring to the table.
Risks and Side Effects of Trigger Point Injections
Virtually every medical treatment in the world has the potential to cause side effects or put you at risk for a new issue to replace the one you are treating. Unfortunately, trigger point injection treatment is not the exception to the rule and comes with a list of side effects and risk factors that might make getting the injections less ideal for your specific needs. The good news is that these issues and risks are relatively rare, and you are less likely to suffer from them than you might from other treatment avenues.
The general side effects of trigger point injections are generally fleeting and self-explanatory issues that resolve themselves in time. These include pain or temporary numbness at the location the injection went in. This symptom is a more common risk and is perfectly normal for injections like this and other forms of treatment. Other, less common side effects are things like discoloration of the skin around the injection site, which can be worrying for obvious reasons but is not necessarily a reason for panic or concern. You might also experience dizziness or excess bleeding, but these are also rare. These side effects tend to diminish within a few hours after the injections have been administered, but you should contact your physician if they persist.
There are also a series of risks that can lead to a more dangerous condition springing from the ashes of the injection. However, these are even rarer than the side effects associated with trigger point injections. That said, you should be on the lookout since, on rare occasions, trigger point injections can result in infections originating at the injection site. If an infection is left unaddressed, it can result in more severe consequences arising as well. You might also experience bruising at the site, along with the potential for muscle or nerve damage as a result of the needle.
There is a more severe side effect than those previously mentioned, but it might not result in long-term damage. When receiving an anesthetic-based TPI, you might run the risk of contracting myonecrosis, a severe form of muscle damage. In most cases, myonecrosis can heal over the course of a 3- to 4-week period.
Finally, an extremely rare risk following a trigger point injection runs a higher risk of being fatal but is so uncommon that it is unlikely to occur. In rare instances, air or gas can build up between the chest wall and lungs due to the injection. Though this is almost never going to happen, the buildup can cause both lungs to collapse as a result.
Risks and side effects are simply a fact of medical science and treatment. While certain effects from certain treatments are less likely to arise than others, they are always a risk. This reality should never discourage you from seeking treatment when you need it, though. Keep your eye out for any signs of strange side effects from the injections so you can seek out guidance as needed.
The vast majority of people undergoing trigger point injections have few or no side effects. It’s simply worth mentioning that some severe side effects can occur in rare circumstances, that’s all.
Trigger point injections might sound like an intimidating treatment option, but they have proven their worth in alleviating pain and improving the quality of life in those suffering back pain. There are several clinics and programs that offer TPI as a treatment avenue, and they can help you recover from the debilitating pain your trigger points are inducing. The risks and side effects can be something of a turn-off for those who worry about their long-term post-treatment health. However, they are so minimal in likelihood that you are not likely to develop them at all.
As always, we implore you to consult with your primary care physician before seeking out trigger point injection treatment to make sure it is the best for you. However, if it is the next step for you, you might be shocked at how quickly you start to feel more like your old self.