TENS to treat upper trapeszius trigger points

Researchers at the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic, in Bournemouth, UK investigated the immediate effect of electric point stimulation (TENS) in patients with latent upper trapezius trigger points compared to placebo.

Trigger points are discrete, localized, hyperirritable spots located in a taut band of skeletal muscle, which can produce referred pain and tenderness.

First, the details.

  • 60 patients with latent upper trapezius trigger points were assigned to a treatment group.
    • TENS
    • Detuned (inactive) TENS
  • Changes in pressure pain threshold at the trigger point, pain over the trigger point, and lateral cervical flexion (head tilt) to the side opposite the trigger point were measured.

And, the results.

  • There was no difference in the pressure pain threshold between treatments.
  • For change in pain over the trigger point, the TENS group had a significant decrease compared to the inactive treatment group.
  • There was no difference in lateral cervical flexion between treatments.

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “TENS is superior to placebo only in reduction of pain for treating latent upper trapezius trigger points.”

A 2006 review of the active myofascial trigger points (not latent as in this study) concluded that TENS appears to have an immediate effect in decreasing pain intensity in myofascial trigger point pain of the neck and upper back. However, there is insufficient data to provide the evidence of effectiveness for TENS beyond immediately after treatment.”

Trigger points are classified as active or latent. An active trigger point causes pain at rest. A latent trigger point doesn’t, but may restrict movement or cause weakness.

Here’s a good review.

6/15/11 22:55 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.