Objective: To determine the difference in effectiveness of positional release therapy (PRT) compared with therapeutic massage (TM) in treating trigger and tender points in the upper trapezius muscle. Background: Trigger points in the upper trapezius muscle are common and can be painful. Therapeutic massage is a more traditional treatment method for this condition while PRT is relatively new. Design and Setting: A randomized-group design was used to examine the differences between the 2 treatments for reducing pain and muscle tension. Subjects: Sixty healthy subjects (males = 24, females = 36; age = 27.1 ± 8.8 years; wt = 75.2 ± 17.9 kg; ht = 172.8 ± 9.7 cm) presenting with upper trapezius pain and a trigger point. Subjects were randomly assigned to the TM group or the PRT group. Measurements: Presence of upper trapezius trigger points was found via palpation by a clinician. Level of pain was measured by a visual analog scale (VAS) and pain pressure threshold (PPT) was assessed by a pressure algometer. Muscle thickness was measured by B-mode ultrasound (US) and muscle tension was measured by shear-wave elastography (SWE). Subjects were measured pretreatment and posttreatment and 48 hours later. Results: All measurements showed significant improvements for both treatments. Positional release therapy was more effective (p = 0.05) at reducing pain at day 2 and was able to maintain the pain loss. The SWE and US showed no difference between the treatment groups. There was no significant difference in PPT, but PRT PPT increased each visit while TM dropped significantly at day 2 (p = .003). Conclusion: Both treatments showed a significant ability to reduce pain and acutely decrease muscle stiffness (as measured by SWE) but there were few differences between the treatments. However, there appeared to be a slight benefit for pain reduction with PRT up to 2 days posttreatment.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Exercise Sciences

Date Submitted


Document Type





therapeutic massage, positional release therapy, elastography, ultrasound, trigger point