Trigger point injections may help relieve chronic muscle pain, including pain in your neck. These injections target “knots” in your muscles called trigger points that can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. It involves injecting an anesthetic or, in some cases, a steroid into the affected area.
Trigger points can develop in any muscle in your body that experiences a sudden injury or repeated trauma. Your neck, shoulders, and back are among the most common areas to develop trigger points.
Medical professionals can identify trigger points by feeling for bumps under your skin that are tender to the touch.
Read on to learn more about how healthcare professionals use trigger point injections to manage neck pain.
Trigger points are irritable areas in your muscles caused by overuse or sudden stress. In the neck, they commonly develop in the following
- Rhomboid. Located in your upper back, the rhomboid muscle connects your shoulder blades to your rib cage and spine. It also helps you maintain an erect posture. Rhomboid trigger points may be felt under your neck, between your spine and shoulder blades.
- Trapezius. The trapezius is a large band of muscle that spans your upper back, shoulders, and neck. You can feel trigger points in the trapezius at the back of your neck and/or along the top of your shoulders.
- Levator scapulae. This muscle is at the back and side of your neck, which is where you can feel the trigger point pain.
Trigger point injections are a potentially effective treatment option for reducing muscle pain. They involve injecting a small amount of an anesthetic to relieve pain. Commonly used anesthetics include
You may also receive a small amount of a steroid, which is a medication that reduces inflammation.
Trigger point injections can potentially offer nearly-instant pain relief and improved function. However, everybody responds differently. Some people may only notice an improvement days or weeks later. And some people may not notice any improvement in their symptoms.
Let’s take a closer look at what the research shows regarding pain relief from trigger point injections:
- In a
small 2021 study, researchers found that saline and lidocaine injections decreased pain in the upper trapezius muscles at 2 and 4 weeks after treatment. Lidocaine injections showed better pain improvement 10 minutes after treatment.
- Another small 2021 study found that both lidocaine and granisetron injections can reduce muscle pain for at least 3 months.
- In some cases, trigger points can originate from an underlying injury to the joints in your neck that require separate treatment. A small 2020 study examined the benefits of cervical nerve blocks and trigger point injections for treating chronic neck pain. Nerve blocks are injections that prevent nerve pain signals from reaching your brain. The researchers found that both treatments offered significant pain relief a week after treatment. However, the cervical nerve block led to better pain relief at 3, 6, and 12 weeks.
- A 2022 research review compared the benefits of dry needling versus trigger point injections for treating neck pain. Dry needling is when healthcare professionals do not inject medication. These researchers found little evidence that trigger point injections were more effective at providing short-term relief.
Trained medical professionals like doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners perform trigger point injections. A healthcare professional usually performs the procedure in a doctor’s office, and it usually takes less than 15 minutes.
During the procedure, your healthcare professional will press on your muscle to find the trigger point. When they identify it, they’ll disinfect the skin over your muscle before inserting a thin needle. They’ll then inject the medication into the affected area.
Medical professionals sometimes use an ultrasound to guide the injection to make sure they place the needle in the right location. They may inject multiple trigger points during your session.
Some people may notice a reduction in pain within minutes after the treatment. Sometimes, though, it may take a few days for the medication to take full effect.
You may need recurrent injections to experience continuous pain relief. Your doctor can let you know how many injections you can safely have per year. They may limit the number of injections you receive, especially if they contain steroids.
Trigger point injections are usually safe and rarely cause major complications or side effects.
If there are side effects, they are typically minor and may include:
- slight bleeding
- skin irritation
Less common side effects can include:
- muscle or nerve damage
- muscle spasms
- skin infection
Some people may experience pain flare-ups after their injection. You can usually treat these flare-ups with cold packs and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medications.
Trigger point injections may not be appropriate if you have an active infection in the area treated or if you have a fear of needles.
Many treatment options are available for muscle pain. If a trigger point injection doesn’t provide pain relief, your doctor may recommend trying other treatments such as:
Trigger point injections are a potential treatment option for neck pain. They involve injecting a small amount of anesthetic and sometimes a steroid into your muscle to relieve pain and improve function.
Some people experience almost immediate relief after receiving a trigger point injection, while other people don’t experience any benefit. If trigger point injections don’t provide relief for your neck pain, your doctor can work with you to build an alternative treatment plan.