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According to Doctors Janet Travell and David Simons in their widely acclaimed medical textbook, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, myofascial trigger points (tiny contraction knots) in overworked or traumatized muscles are the hidden and unsuspected cause of most headaches. This includes tension headaches, cervicogenic headaches, cluster headaches, vascular headaches, and migraine headaches.

headache trigger points
headache trigger points

This trapezius trigger point is the primary cause of a temple headache and eye pain.

You may recognize these symptoms as major components of a migraine headache.

This trigger point is produced and perpetuated by keeping your shoulders up. Women who carry their purse on a shoulder strap are especially prone to having this trigger point and its symptoms. Symptoms often include dizziness. There are many other trigger points that cause headaches.

headache trigger points

You can self-treat this trapezius trigger point with the opposite hand as shown, kneading it repeatedly between the fingers and thumb.

The trigger point is located in the angle of the neck just beneath the skin in a tight band of muscle fiber about the thickness of a knitting needle.

Six to twelve strokes make a treatment, but come back to it several times a day. You may get a significant degree of immediate relief.

Referred Pain

It’s a 19th century notion that headaches result from contraction of the muscles or blood vessels in the scalp. Decades of research by Travell and Simons have shown that headaches rarely have anything to do with the head itself and usually don’t have a true medical cause, unless a result of disease or injury.

Virtually all common headaches are simply pain referred from trigger points in muscles of the jaw, neck, and upper back. Trigger points characteristically send their pain to some other place.

This physical distance between cause and effect is why headaches have always been so mysterious and hard to deal with. Conventional treatments for pain so often fail because they focus on the pain itself. They treat the site of the pain while overlooking and failing to treat the cause, which may be some distance away. Headaches are a classic example of referred pain.

Painkilling Drugs

Worse than routinely treating the site of the pain is the pharmaceutical treatment of the whole body for what is usually a local problem.

Painkilling drugs, the increasingly expensive treatment of choice these days, give us the illusion that something good is happening, when in reality they only mask the problem. Most common pain, like headaches, is a warning—a protective response to muscle overuse or trauma.

When pain is seen in its true role as the messenger and not the affliction itself, treatment can be directed to the cause of pain, with greatly improved results.

Headache Triggers

Many supposed “headache triggers” actually have their effect by chemically activating your latent trigger points. A bad cough can do it; so can a viral infection, a hangover, overexertion, analgesic rebound, and too much consumption of sugar.

Trigger points are also the operational element in headaches set off by allergic reactions, chemical withdrawal, physical trauma, and emotional tension. Even the frustrating, unexplainable headaches that come with fibromyalgia can be shown to be due largely to the presence of myofascial trigger points.


Trigger points should be at the top of the list during any examination for headaches and eye pain. When healthcare practitioners have had adequate training and experience, trigger points are easy to locate and treat. In fact, there are ways to treat them yourself quite effectively.

trigger points workbook

In The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, nationally certified massage therapist Clair Davies simplifies Travell and Simons’s extensive research into myofascial pain and makes it accessible to the layman. His innovative methods of self-applied trigger point massage will relieve common headaches, eye pain, and migraines when trigger points are the cause.

To find out more about the book and the method, please visit the homepage. To read a growing number of reviews by people who have been helped by the book, take a look at the book’s page at Amazon.com.

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