Acupuncture for Tight Muscles and Trigger Points

Acupuncture for tight muscles and trigger points

Last Updated on October 29, 2021

Our muscles respond to injury with tightness, stiffness, and pain. Over time, even minor injuries to muscles that go ignored and untreated can become chronic conditions, which wear down our bodies, making existing injuries worse and causing additional injuries to surrounding muscles and bones. But acupuncture can effectively treat tight, painful muscles, allowing muscles to heal and preventing further injuries. Related: Acupuncture for High Hamstring Strain

What causes muscle soreness?

Your muscles attach to your bones via tendons, and when they contract, they pull on these attachments sites, allowing you to do things like flex your arms or make a fist. After contraction, those same muscles will lengthen and relax, reducing tension in the associated muscle fibers. But things can go wrong in this process that cause muscle tightness and soreness, including:

  1. Dehydration and nutrient deficiency. Your muscles require sufficient hydration and calcium levels to contract and lengthen, and if you lack in either, they can start cramping and causing pain.
  2. Muscles stuck in a contracted, neutral, or lengthened state. Muscle dysfunction can cause them to get stuck in a certain state, reducing their range of motion and blood flow to the area. Poor posture, repetitive motions, and overuse of muscles can all cause this type of injury. This can lead to an imbalance among muscle groups that rely upon each other to perform actions and even create structural changes over time as dysfunctional muscles pull bones out of alignment.
  3. Small muscle tears and fatigue. Over-exercising often leads to small tears in muscles, soreness, and tightness. This discomfort typically lasts for 48-72 hours but can be alleviated by stretching, heat, massage, and acupuncture.

What are trigger points?

When muscles stay tight for too long and don’t contract and relax as they should, they receive fewer nutrients and less blood flow, which leads to tight knots or bands forming in them. We refer to these tight, painful knots in the muscle as trigger points. They cause muscles to shorten and lose flexibility, strength, and range of motion, further impairing proper functioning. The effect is much like what happens when you tie a knot in the middle of a rubber band. Usually, a rubber band stretches out and relaxes with little effort, but a rubber band with a knot tied in the middle of it can no longer stretch and relax properly. Trigger points cause the same problem for your muscles.  A common cause of trigger point activation is poor posture.

Poor posture can also exacerbate existing trigger points or reactivate previously healed ones. Those with chronic pain issues often have problems with postural trigger points worsening their condition and pain levels. And many everyday occurrences can activate postural trigger points, like looking down at your cellphone or working at a computer, which makes them harder to avoid. Related: Acupuncture for Plantar Fasciitis Are you suffering muscle tightness and pain caused by trigger points? Inner Gate has a team of highly qualified providers to help you through the healing process, including acupuncturists, naturopathic doctors, massage and physical therapists, and the best chiropractor in Portland!

Acupuncture for Trapezius Pain

Trigger points in the trapezius muscle are often caused by poor posture, usually related to excessive computer and cell phone usage. They’re also one of the most commonly dealt with trigger points in acupuncture practice. Patients having problems with this trigger point often complain of stress or tension headaches as well as neck and upper back pain. Fortunately, by utilizing acupuncture points for trapezius pain, we can relieve these and many other kinds of pain for patients.

Acupuncturist inserting a needle into a patient's upper back muscle

Using Acupuncture for Tight Muscles

Acupuncture is very effective in treating muscle tightness and pain caused by trigger points. When performing acupuncture for muscle tension, acupuncturists find the tenderest and tightest band of muscle causing their client’s discomfort and then insert a tiny needle into that trigger point, forcing the muscle to contract.

The trigger point then releases, allowing the muscle to soften. After a few such contractions, the muscle generally remains soft and relaxed, thus relieving the client’s associated pain and improving range of motion. Blood circulation to local tissues also improves after acupuncture muscle release, which allows the muscle to receive the nutrients it needs to function.

Home Care Following Your Trigger Point Acupuncture Treatment

After your acupuncture trigger points treatment, you should apply warmth to the affected muscles and get plenty of rest. Gentle motion in the days following your appointment can improve blood flow to the area and reduce muscle soreness, but avoid any strenuous activities that could exacerbate or reengage the trigger point.

Number of Treatments Needed During Acupuncture for Muscle Pain

One treatment may be enough to release some trigger points, but others may require five treatments or more. Those with chronic pain conditions may need more and more frequent sessions. Lifestyle factors and other health issues can complicate the healing process, and going too long between treatments may cause trigger points to reoccur.

Dry Needling Versus Acupuncture

Dry needling describes a form of acupuncture performed by physical therapists who have not received the training required to become a licensed or accredited acupuncturist. Acupuncturists go through 1300 hours of training to become licensed, but there are no licensing requirements or standard guidelines for physical therapists who perform dry needling. Because of this, physical therapists can receive as little as a weekend’s worth of training before practicing on patients.

In dry needling, just as in acupuncture, physical therapists insert tiny needles into acupuncture trigger points, but they do so without the same skills and knowledge that acupuncturists possess. Some states allow this practice because physical therapists claim not to follow the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, making dry needling a separate treatment from acupuncture. However, a lack of training can make this practice dangerous for patients.

Inserting needles too aggressively can cause patients pain, and inadvertently contaminating a needle before insertion may result in infection. Serious complications can occur when treating deep tissue pain. These procedures require using needles up to four inches in length, and improperly inserted needles can collapse lungs or cause nerve damage. Overall, acupuncture for muscle knots is a safer treatment option for patients than dry needling due to acupuncturists’ rigorous training.

Acupuncturist inserting a needle into a patient's arm

Related: Acupuncture for Ankle Sprains Are you looking for a highly qualified practitioner to help you heal from trigger point induced muscle tightness? Contact Inner Gate to work with well trained and experienced acupuncturists, massage and physical therapists, naturopathic doctors, and the best chiropractor in Portland!

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