Trigger points frequently develop in neck muscles, including those running along the back and sides of the neck, and those extending down the upper back. When the tissue covering one of these muscles (the myofascia) contracts and adheres to itself, it cuts off its blood supply, causing pain and preventing the muscle from performing properly.
Unlike tender points (sensitive areas of fat, muscle, or bursa), trigger points can refer pain to other areas of the body, and can also mimic or further complicate separate pain issues. Trigger points located in the neck area often manifest themselves as any of the following conditions:
- Bursitis. Bursitis occurs when a bursa sac, which is filled with fluid to lubricate the surrounding tissues, becomes irritated or inflamed. Trigger points in the neck can often cause pain in the shoulders that indicates bursitis.
- Cold symptoms. Many people experience cold symptoms as a result of trigger points in the neck, making it easy to confuse the two conditions. These symptoms may include coughing, headache, nausea, sinus congestion, sore throat and trouble swallowing.
- Eye issues. Someone with trigger points in the cervical (upper) region of the spine might experience blurred vision, double vision, drooping eyelids, eye twitching, red eyes and tearing.
- Migraines/tension headaches. Trigger points in the neck can often cause someone to experience the symptoms of a migraine, a tension headache or a combination of the two.
- Temporomandibular joint pain. The temporomandibular joint connects the skull’s temporal bones to the jaw. Someone with trigger points in their neck might feel pain around this joint.
- Tendinitis. Someone with trigger points in their neck may experience the symptoms of tendinitis, which occur when a tendon attaching a bone to a muscle becomes inflamed or irritated.
- Tinnitus. Someone living with trigger points in their neck area might hear a ringing noise, or could even experience hearing loss.
- Torticollis. Torticollis, sometimes referred to as “a crick in the neck,” occurs when someone’s neck muscles contract, causing their head to twist to one side. Trigger points in the neck could cause someone to experience a twisted or tilted neck.
- Vertigo. Trigger points in the neck might cause someone to feel dizzy or off balance.
If you have trigger points in your neck and are experiencing any of the above conditions, you might be able to relieve your symptoms using a conservative course of treatment consisting of stretching, physical therapy, heat/cold therapy or pain medication. If you haven’t found relief after several weeks or months, however, you may also want to consider having trigger point injections, another conservative treatment option, in your neck. During this quick procedure, a medical professional injects cortisone and either saline or a local anesthetic (or simply inserts the needle, without injecting any medication, if you have a history of drug allergies). These injections may inactivate the trigger points in your neck and relieve your pain.