Getting Rid of Shoulder Trigger Points: An Effective Therapy to Help Avoid Shoulder Surgery?

Medical illustration showing the muscles from the neck to the lower back with trigger points indicated

Circles indicate the trigger points. Naeblys/Shutterstock

Have you had this experience? You see your orthopedic surgeon who spends a few minutes performing an exam, looks at your films, and suggests shoulder surgery. But do you really need shoulder surgery? Are there much less invasive options? Is there a shoulder surgery alternative? While we often treat many smaller rotator cuff tears and other shoulder problems with stem cells, we also believe that some shoulders don’t even need that level of care. Many patients will get better by getting rid of myofascial trigger points with an IMS technique. Never heard of this therapy? You’re not alone. I explain trigger points and IMS it in more detail in our medical practice’s book, Orthopedics 2.0. Briefly, muscle trigger points are spots in the muscle that become painful and locked, so that the muscle is painful and weak. These spots can be simply cleared by a well trained provider with an acupuncture needle (however IMS isn’t Chinese acupuncture). Now a new study published by one our colleagues shows that IMS is effective in a randomized controlled trial. The results of the study showed that a three month program of IMS is more effective than no treatment. Based on experience, I would say that many of these patients with simple shoulder muscle trigger points often get unnecessary surgery. Why haven’t you heard of this very valuable treatment that is much less invasive than surgery? The economics of medicine. Trigger point injection therapy (either Travell type with the injection of anesthetic or IMS) don’t pay well, so these therapies have become a lost art. However, apparently a lost art that’s effective and based on the low invasiveness of the technique, in our opinion, far safer than surgery.

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.