Your neck is one of the commonest places to get myofascial triggers – and no wonder! Your neck muscles are working every waking hour of your day. They’re constantly supporting your head, adjusting your posture and working with your shoulder muscles.
Around 50% of people will have an episode of significant neck pain during their lifetime, and it can really affect your quality of life.
Treating neck pain effectively means figuring out exactly what the cause is. This is sometimes complex, as the neck has a number of important structures, all of which can cause pain.
Neck pain can be caused by a problem in the discs or joints – especially facet joints. Then there’s the muscle, tendons, and ligaments of the neck. Finally, in the muscles, you can get pain caused by active trigger points. Here are the main symptoms of active trigger points in the neck:
Especially for people with office jobs, knowing how to self treat your trigger points for neck pain is vital. Why office jobs? If you’re sitting at a computer all day, take a moment to look around your office. In all likelihood, you’ll see your fellow workers slumped or hunched over their desks in varying degrees of tension.
Because you’re focusing on what’s going on your computer screen, it’s all too easy to forget how you’re sitting. And doing this for eight hours a day, five days a week (or more!) all adds up.
Here are the main neck muscles which get trigger points:
There are other muscles that refer pain into the neck, and we recommend you check the free trigger charts at www.TriggerPointCharts.com to get a full picture.
So, first things first – what’s a trigger point? The short definition: it’s an area of micro-spasm within your muscle. It’s like your muscle has switched on a tight knot, which isn’t able to relax.
Why does your body do this? It’s part of a defensive reflex. Your muscles naturally contract when they feel they’ve been stretched too far. But for many people, parts of the muscle don’t release, and this leaves behind small ‘trigger points.’
While some people get these triggers from a physical accident, it’s equally common to get triggers from sitting for a long time in a position where you’re putting strain on your muscles. (Like sitting with your neck in an awkward position.)
Now, if you take an area that’s super sensitive and you treat it, and the treatment is too rough and too intense, it becomes very easy to make the pain worse and hype everything up. This can happen if you or your trigger point therapist are trying to kill the trigger by putting too much pressure onto an area where all the lights are on already. It’s like getting a sunburn and then doing something to the whole area–it just hurts like crazy.
So the treatments have to be very gentle. To avoid an unnecessarily painful treatment experience, it’s a great idea to learn how to treat your own trigger points in a gentle way so that you don’t cause any negative reaction. If your system is all wound up, doing too much to it will make it worse.
The reason for this is that the messages going from your nerves up into your brain can be changed or amplified. When you have chronic pain, your whole pain system–the nerves from your muscles into your spine, all the way up into your brain–is hyped up.
This means unless you are careful, you’ll end up feeling far more pain than you would when your pain system behaves normally.
So, how do you self treat the trigger points for neck pain? Firstly, you need to be able to find trigger points. You’ll be looking for tight or thickened bands of muscle within an area that feels tender.
Your trapezius is a very common muscle to have trigger points. The main trigger point here is a big trigger point which can be a little difficult to treat. For the trapezius trigger–and there are two points–you have to pincer the muscle between thumb and fingers. But because it’s such a big trigger, you worth taking your time. This trigger point may require multiple treatments to release.
Feel up behind your head. When you find a point, take the tip of your finger, put another finger over it, and feel for the trigger point. If you run your fingers backwards and forwards, you may feel a little band, like a little guitar string, and along that band, you’ll find a sore point. That’s the active trigger point.
Your goal is to sneak up on the trigger point and put it to sleep.
Once you’re on the point, push hard enough to be sure it’s sore, so you know you’re definitely accurately on the trigger point.
Gradually reduce the pressure until there is no pain. You’re still on the trigger itself, but you’re pushing just hard enough to know you’re there–not hard enough to cause pain. You can do this as well as any therapist (in fact better) because you can feel exactly when the pressure is right.
Now, breathe and relax. You just close your eyes and send a message from your mind through your finger to the trigger point. And you say to the trigger point, “Just relax. Chill out. You don’t need to protect me anymore because I don’t need it.” Just quietly do this for 20 or 30 seconds.
After this, start to gently increase the pressure on the spot. You haven’t moved; you can’t move a millimeter if you want to stay exactly on the trigger point.
Slowly increase the pressure over 90-120 seconds, always keeping below the point of pain. Gently increase the pressure and you will find over time that as you start to push, it doesn’t hurt.
When you can push quite hard, and feel no pain, this means the trigger point is released, deactivated, turned off.
Once you’ve done this, feel around for other triggers and treat them in exactly the same way. The triggers in the smaller muscles will be easier to treat. They should go away quicker.
After you’ve treated yourself, lie down and relax. If you have a heat pad, hot water bottle or wheat bag, put this on the area you’ve treated for 5 minutes or so.
After treating trigger points and applying heat, stretch your muscles. This is an important part of the process, and will help the treatment last longer.
Here’s a video on how to safely stretch all your neck muscles.
Do this once or twice a day, very gently, just chipping away slowly. You will find that your pain starts to reduce.
Take into account that your pain may not be completely alleviated in two or three treatments. If it did, that would be miraculous and wonderful.
However, you know now that trigger points are a big part of getting rid of muscle and joint pain; now you need to very quietly and gently start to treat your own trigger points.
If you want to take this to the next level and start treating triggers right now, my Trigger Point Course covers every major muscle, with step by step video tutorials.
A key with trigger points – they can refer pain to other locations. For example, triggers in your neck can refer pain up into you head – even causing what seems to be a tension headache. Trigger points in your shoulders and upper back can refer into your neck.
If you press on a spot in your neck that causes pain shooting up into your head – you’ve found an important trigger.
It’s also important to note that trigger points are just one possible cause of neck pain. While treating your triggers you need to also rule out other causes like disc injuries in the neck, tumors, and in the case of chest pain, any heart trouble.
That said, trigger points may be secondary causes of pain. This means they can be set off by other problems like facet joint or disc pain.
Active neck trigger points then become part of the general neck pain complex. And even after the other problems have settled, these active triggers can continue to cause pain. So it’s well worth going on a search to see if you can find and switch off active trigger points in your neck.
Some people also use a Theracane for neck pain (a cane with knobs you can use to apply pressure to your muscles instead of with your fingers) or a knobble board (same idea, but you can lie down on it.)
Both types of devices work well, however so do your own fingers, and especially when you’re learning, you need all the feedback sensation and sensitivity you can get.
Here’s a common scenario: imagine you woke up one morning, and one of your neck trigger points was in spasm. Unfortunately whoever you saw didn’t examine you properly or didn’t understand about trigger points.
Despite the common nature of trigger points, doctors don’t always diagnose or treat them properly. Because of this, it could take years to find the problem. The problem with this scenario is that the trigger points would have been there all those years, and so the whole area has become sensitized.
Not only do you have the trigger point in your muscles–the trapezius, the muscles up the back of your neck, your splenius capitis– all of these can be in a protective spasm. In addition, all the nerves in that area are wound up and the messages coming into the spinal cord are amplified. This makes the whole area super sensitive and painful.
If you want to find and treat all your neck trigger points, here’s where to get a free manual and starter trigger point course >>