Let’s Talk Headaches & Trigger Points


Headaches can arise for a variety of reasons – dehydration, stress, hunger, lack of sleep, and many others. Headaches are one of the ways that our body registers to our mind that something needs attention and focused care. Sometimes when we get a headache, we try to determine the reason. And one of those reasons that we might not have been taught, it seems, is the trigger point.

Trigger points are hyperirritable nodules in our muscles or fascia (connective tissue throughout our bodies) that form after misuse or injury. Trigger points ultimately form as a means of bracing and protecting the tissue fibers, whether that tissue is regularly over-lengthened and “spread thin” or over-shortened and “bunched up”. If we hunch our upper backs often throughout the day to look at our phones or our work, those upper back muscles may form a trigger point to help the muscles “hold on” and not become too stretched thin while we hunch. In that same instance, the front chest and neck muscles may form a trigger point because they have grown accustomed to being shortened, aren’t stretched afterwards, and don’t get a chance to reestablish their original length as a result.

We can find these trigger points on ourselves, and chances are if you know of a “good spot” on your body, you’ve probably already identified a trigger point. Perhaps you’ve pressed into that spot on your shoulder and felt that “good hurt” radiating. Maybe you ride your bicycle or run frequently and now you’ve found that there’s a spot on your calves that feels a bit more tender to the touch than anywhere else in your lower body. If it’s a nodule that is registering tenderness, pain, or any kind of noticeable discomfort, it sounds like a trigger point.

And while these trigger points may register a particular sensation directly at the nodule (“local”), sometimes they can send the sensation to other parts of the body (“referred”). Maybe that nodule on your shoulder keeps the sensation local. Or maybe it refers some tension up toward your spine and up the side of your neck. Enter: the headache. Is that buzzing, almost electric sensation at the top of your head referred pain from a sternocleidomastoid muscle trigger point? What if that headache at your temples isn’t originating from your temples at all, but instead from your sub occipital muscles at the base of your skull? Point being – sometimes these headaches are really originating from other places on the body.

Chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy all utilize techniques that aim to diffuse and eliminate trigger points and their persistent effects on our bodies. If you experience persistent headaches, it could very well be worth pursuing regular bodywork with a trigger point focus to arrive at a more headache-free, easeful state of being.

Bobby, McMahon, LMT