The definition of trigger points is still a hotly-debated topic in the medical world, especially in fields concerning pain relief and management. Even those already practising or who have a special interest in trigger point therapy admit that there is a huge need for more medical data and research for this treatment modality.
The need arises not from the lack of evidence, but because more and more physicians and health care practitioners are reporting the great results they are getting from practising trigger point massage and other associated techniques. Thus, gaining an understanding of trigger points and trigger point therapy can open opportunities for discovering effective and long-term pain relief.
What Is A Trigger Point?
A trigger point, as its name implies, is a specific point in the muscle that causes or refers pain in another part or multiple parts of the body. For instance, a trigger point located in the neck may be the source of constant headaches or even toothaches. Neck pain, on the other hand, may be “referred” from a trigger point in your back. In some situations, you may also be feeling pain in the trigger point itself, but mostly the pain occurs in the referral points in more than 70 percent of cases.
Some of the documented characteristics of trigger points include:
– They occur in the form of knots or tight bands in the muscle, and are tender to the touch.
– Applying pressure on a trigger point can make the pain on both the location and the referral areas more intense.
– Trigger points cause not only pain but also other symptoms including weak muscles, limited mobility, excessive sweating, dizziness, loss of coordination, fatigue, urinary problems and incontinence.
Studies have shown that muscle trigger points can occur without any obvious reasons; they can simply appear as a natural part of the muscle. Research published by the American Academy of Family Physicians also indicates that trigger points can likewise develop due to acute or repetitive trauma to the muscle, sedentary lifestyles, joint problems, sleep problems, vitamin/nutritional deficiencies, and muscular overload, among others.
Through trigger point therapy, the contraction in the muscle fibres (that causes the muscle “knots”) can be stretched and relaxed, aiming for the deactivation of the trigger point. As early as the first session, the patient can already experience a significant reduction of pain and other symptoms. Regular massage and other techniques used in trigger point therapy further amplify its pain relieving benefits, especially for the most stubborn conditions.
What Is Trigger Point Therapy?
If you have trigger points in your muscles, whether these are active or latent, you can opt for myofascial trigger points self-treatment or go to a specialist for trigger point therapy. Ideally, you should do both to facilitate faster recovery.
The goal of trigger point treatment is to release trigger points which results in pain relief, restoration of the range of movement and the optimal flow of kinetic energy, and improvement of the biomechanics in the affected joints.
Therapists trained in releasing trigger points may use a combination of techniques, including massage therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture.
What conditions can be treated with trigger point therapy?
Trigger point therapy can be used for a diverse range of conditions, including:
- Headaches and migraine
- Temporomandibular joint pain
- Lower back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Heel pain
- Parkinson’s disease
- Shoulder pain
How can this therapy release trigger points and eliminate the associated symptoms?
The combination of techniques used in releasing trigger points help stop the affected muscles from being in a state of perpetual contraction. The use of massage aids in improving the circulation which may be restricted in the affected area due to the contraction of the fibres. And with the restoration of optimal circulation, the affected muscles get the vital nutrients and oxygen these need. Finally, the treatment stretches the knotted muscle fibres.
What are the benefits of trigger point therapy?
Trigger point treatment offers numerous benefits. First, it can substantially reduce the pain you are experiencing while reducing the pain feedback pathways. The treatment also stretches out tight muscle fibres which may indirectly affect the surrounding tissues. The treatment also stimulates the optimal flow of blood which aids in the removal of toxins and in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients. Finally, the treatment facilitates the release of endorphins which aid in pain reduction.
What can you expect from your first treatment?
In a typical therapy session, you are going to be asked to do a variety of treatment and stretch positions. Depending on which areas of your body are affected, you may be asked to stand, sit, or lie down.
Depending on the area that is going to be affected, you may be asked to disrobe or just wear your undergarments. It is highly recommended that you wear loose-fitting clothes so that the parts of your body that need to be treated can be easily accessed by the therapist.
Is it painful?
Trigger points can be quite sensitive and it is fairly normal to experience some degree of pain during the treatment. Typically, therapists try to keep the pain within the range of five to seven on a scale of 0 to 10. If you simply cannot handle the pressure being applied to the trigger points, you can ask your therapist to adjust the pressure being applied to your body. After a few therapy sessions, you will notice that the level of pain you experience is lowered, even if the same amount of pressure is applied.
Self-care to Complement Trigger Point Therapy
In addition to formal therapy, there are techniques you can employ on your own to facilitate faster and more effective healing from pain brought on by trigger points.
Self-massage is generally the simplest, cheapest and most effective method of addressing trigger points on the body because it can easily flush out a minor trigger point’s waste metabolites, which then helps prevent the trigger point from recurring. For simple cases, a few moments of gentle rubbing with your fingers may prove to be sufficient. With more moderate cases of trigger point pain, you can try rubbing the area several times a day over a couple of days. More complex conditions, however, may require about a half dozen short self-massages using your fingertips or a tennis ball for a week, using 20-30 gentle to more intense (but not painful) kneading strokes (either back and forth or circular) at a time.
Trigger point exercises and tips for specific conditions
Fibromyalgia can be better managed with some simple home treatments or remedies. One option is therapeutic massage for fibromyalgia which manipulates the soft tissues and muscles of the body to ease muscle tension, pain, stress and spasms.
Applying heat has also proven to be an effective solution to muscle stiffness and pain from fibromyalgia. Taking a warm shower, soaking in a Jacuzzi, or using a moist heating pad can all work wonders.
Because anxiety can worsen fibromyalgia symptoms, it is also essential to practise relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or guided imagery, and to make an effort to set time aside each day for getting sufficient rest and keep stress at bay. And to allow your mind and body to rest and repair, it’s best to follow a regular sleeping schedule.
The neck is one of the most common areas for detecting trigger points because it is constantly at work supporting the head, working with the shoulder muscles for enabling movement, and helping to adjust your posture. The Suboccipital and Scalene muscles in the neck should be your focus, as well as the Levator Scapulae and Trapezius muscles in the shoulder which can refer pain to the neck.
There are two self-care techniques you can try for trigger points for neck pain. One is to use acupressure on the trigger point, taking advantage of the weight of your arm to create gentle pressure on the area.
Another option is to use equipment such as a theracane massager, which is a knobbly type of cane with protrusions that you can use to apply pressure on the area. There is also a knobble board which is similar to the theracane, except it is a board that you can lie down on.
Whether you use these implements or your fingers, the idea is to press down on the trigger point and then reduce the pressure until no more pain is felt. Next, slowly increase the pressure over 60 to 90 seconds, making sure to stay below the point of pain. Then slowly release the pressure and stretch out your neck.
Self Treatment Video: How to Get Knots Knots Out Of Your Shoulders. Trigger Point Therapy
Shoulder pain or strain
Like the neck, the shoulder can frequently experience pain, strain and stiffness. In particular, the Infraspinatus, Subscapularis and Trapezius muscles are most often affected by trigger points. Stretching and strengthening exercises can help you maintain strength and flexibility that can prevent future pain.
Some things you can do: At work, make sure the computer is not positioned too far in front of you, and avoid chairs that are too high, too short, or that have no arm rests — proper ergonomics is key to preventing poor posture that can lead to shoulder pain. Also, if your work involves labour (you may be a painter or electrician, for example), avoid working with the arms held overhead for long periods; use a small stool to raise yourself up and bring you closer to the task at hand. And if you often carry objects, like bags, in one hand with the arm hanging down, change up the arms to avoid overstretching.
Freedom from pain
Trigger points affect the health and vitality of millions of people each year, but there is certainly no reason to endure the discomfort and limited mobility that they cause. Thanks to effective trigger point therapy options as well as self-care and management techniques, you can experience lasting relief and discover health benefits that help improve your quality of life.