Trigger points

What are Trigger Points in dogs?

Trigger Points in the fascia and muscles of dogs are the same as trigger points found in us humans. ‘They are hyper irritable points in taut bands of skeletal muscle located in the muscular tissue or its associated fascia which is painful on compression’. In other words they are like knots of tissue that hurt when pressed. They form at areas under stress due to postural imbalances, poor biomechanics and repetitive motion as well as following injuries, accidents or any other kind of damage.

Trigger points are classified into several types depending on their symptoms and location and can be summarised as follows:

Active trigger point

Is painful both at rest and with movement of the muscle containing it. The trigger point in the taut band prevents the muscle from fully lengthening and reduces its strength. It is also tender and when compressed typically refers pain in a predictable pattern for that muscle which can be locally (i.e. near the point of compression) or distant (away from the point of compression) to the affected muscle.

Latent trigger point

Produces pain only when palpated. All other characteristics of an active trigger point may occur with a latent one including the prevention of full muscle lengthening. Latent trigger points are more common than active ones and may persist for years after the initial injury. In addition a latent trigger point may be reverted to an active state by any referred pain, overuse, overstretching or chilling of the muscle containing it.

Primary trigger point

Directly activated by acute or chronic mechanical strain or overload of the affected muscle and is the main cause of the dog’s pain.

Secondary trigger point

Activated in the overworked synergist or antagonist muscles

Satellite trigger point

Found in muscles that lie within the referral pattern of a primary trigger point or areas where muscle fibres are overloaded because of compensation patterns to protect a primary trigger point. This type are a common occurrence in dogs as they try to carry on as normal using other muscles or muscle groups to take on the role of the one which is damaged.

A Trigger point will not show up on an X-ray as it is a soft tissue injury, and although they may show up on an MRI scan they are often not easy to see if very small.

What causes Trigger Points in dogs?

The main causes include:

  • Overuse of a muscle
  • Overload of a muscle
  • Repetitive Actions or exercise leading to repetitive strain injuries
  • Trauma i.e. collisions with other dogs, Injury or damage to a muscle
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping in one position or a restricted position for an extended period of time i.e. curved hard beds that do allow the dog to stretch out or lay straight
  • Overcompensation created as a result of other conditions i.e. orthopaedic conditions such as Arthritis and hip Dysplasia
  • After Surgery

What are the other symptoms of Trigger Points in Dogs?

When touched, a trigger point can cause extreme pain for your dog resulting in them jumping, yelping, showing signs of aggression or crying.

A trigger point can cause lameness, increased stiffness, slowing down, lack of extension on the fore or rear legs or “premature” ageing of your dog.

Trigger points can build up over years of overloading or excessive use of muscles groups, and they can cause weakness and stiffness in muscles consequently affecting your dog’s mobility and agility.

Some additional symptoms include:

  • Hot Spots or areas felt through the skin and fur
  • Soreness or tenderness to touch
  • Twitching of the skin *
  • Reluctance to be touched in a certain areas or groomed
  • Dropping of the shoulder
  • Lack of enthusiasm on walks or reluctance to play
  • Depressed, changes in mood or non typical behaviour
  • Fatigued
  • Off their food

*If you see your dog’s skin twitching or you can feel lumps in the muscle, (which have been checked and cleared by your vet for tumours or cysts) then the likelihood is that your dog has developed a trigger point within their muscle.

How can canine massage help Trigger Points?

Clinical Massage, using techniques such as trigger point therapy and deep tissue work, along with Myofascial release are the most effective ways to release trigger points resulting in a reduction or elimination of pain and discomfort for your dog and a significant improvement in their range of movement and flexibility.