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Tiffany Lin, MD
Tiffany Lin, MD

Q: What are trigger point injections, and how do they differ from other injections for pain?

A: A trigger point is a tight band of muscle (or knot) that cuts off circulation to the surrounding area, causing pain. A trigger point injection is when a physician inserts a needle into the muscle where the tight bands are and does what we call “dry needling.” The purpose of dry needling is to cause structural changes within the muscle: to break up the knot, increase blood flow to the area, and wash away the inflammatory markers that have built up in the area.

Practitioners often inject local anesthetics like lidocaine for patient comfort during the procedure, but the numbing medication itself doesn’t have any long-term effect.

A trigger point injection differs from, for example, a hip injection for bursitis. A bursa is a gel-filled sac that helps muscles glide over bones. When bursae get swollen, they can cause joint pain. With bursa injections, we inject numbing medication and steroids into the swollen or irritated bursa around the hip joint. With a trigger point injection, however, the needle goes directly into the muscle itself. We are not injecting therapeutic medications into the muscle — it’s more about the needling and breaking up the knot.

– Dr. Tiffany Lin

This question was answered during the episode of Spine Time called “Sprains and Spasms, Pulls and Tears: Coping With Soft Tissue Conditions in Your Back.” A recording of this webinar, held on June 16, 2021, is available on YouTube.

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