A review is made of recent studies on myofascial trigger points (MTrP) and their mechanism is discussed. Clinical and basic science studies have shown that there are multiple MTrP loci in a MTrP region. A MTrP locus contains a sensory component (sensitive locus) and a motor component (active locus). A sensitive locus is a point from which tenderness or pain, referred pain, and local twitch response can be elicited by mechanical stimulation. Sensitive loci (probably sensitised nociceptors) are widely distributed in the whole muscle, but are concentrated in the endplate zone. An active locus is a site from which spontaneous electrical activity can be recorded. Active loci appear to be dysfunctional endplates since spontaneous electrical activity is essentially the same as the electrical activity reported by neurophysiologists as that recorded from an abnormal endplate. A MTrP is always found in a taut band which is histologically related to contraction knots caused by excessive release of acetylcholine in abnormal endplates. Both referred pain and local twitch response are mediated through spinal cord mechanisms, as demonstrated in both human and animal studies.
The pathogenesis of MTrPs appears to be related to integration in the spinal cord of response to the disturbance of nerve endings and abnormal contractile mechanism at multiple dysfunctional endplates. There are many similarities between MTrPs and acupuncture points including their location and distribution, pain and referred pain patterns, local twitch responses (de qi), and possible spinal cord mechanism.
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