Self-help: Pain Relief with Trigger Points
Are you suffering from muscle pain? Does your shoulder or back feel stiff?
You may have developed what is called “trigger points” over the course of time for some reason.
WHO DISCOVERED TRIGGER POINT THERAPY?
The link between trigger points and body pain was first discovered by Dr. Janet Travell, the former President John F. Kennedy’s personal physician, who became well known for the treatment and relief of Kennedy’s chronic back pain. In the book “The Trigger Point Manual,” Travell along with her colleague, Dr. David Simons, show that 75% of the time, trigger points are the primary cause of pain and that they are a contributing factor in every painful condition.
HOW DO YOU DEVELOP TRIGGER POINTS
The word myofascial means muscle tissue (myo) and the connective tissue in and around it (fascia) thus causing sensitive areas of tight muscle fibers to form called “trigger points”. Trigger points are also known as muscle ’knots’. They are incredibly common, but it does not mean they are harmless. Chronic stress on our muscles can create scar tissue, which can lead to fibrosis.
WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF TRIGGER POINTS
A trigger point in a muscle can cause strain and pain throughout the muscle. The pain may be sharp and intense or a dull ache. It may radiate from that trigger point to another part of the body depending on the type. For example, your lower leg (referral pain) is aching, at the same time your lower back (trigger point) feels stiff.
WHY IS INCREASED BLOOD FLOW GOOD
Sometimes, intense workout sessions can result in microtears in the muscle tissue, lactic acid buildup in your muscles. Deep tissue massage to the trigger point increases blood flow, squeezing old blood out to bring more oxygen rich blood into the tissue getting rid of the lactic acid. This speeds up the healing process and aid in quick pain relief.
WHAT CAUSES TRIGGER POINTS
Trigger points are so common because they occur when some part of your body is injured or stressed both external stresses, as well as postural, can be the culprit. For example, they can be caused by a car accident, a fall, sports injury, or physical labor. These muscle strains not only come from physical work, but also from lack of use, sedentary behavior, a long commute, nutritional deficiencies, emotional stress, lack of sleep, and much more.
They can also develop slowly over time from everyday occurrences such as:
- Poor posture, prolonged isometric contraction (working at the keyboard, typing on - your computer)
- Tensing or clenching your muscles due to anxiety or emotional stress
- Sitting for long periods
- Carrying a heavy briefcase
- Lifting your baby or toddler
In other words, your altered patterns of movement put abnormal stress on your muscles, ligaments, and joints. This leads to strength and flexibility imbalances in your muscles as well as postural dysfunctions throughout your body.
This “use-abuse-disuse” scenario creates more trigger points in other areas and a vicious pain cycle begins. Before you know it, you’ve developed clusters of active and latent trigger points. You may even give up doing the things you love to do because it simply hurts too much.
TYPES OF TRIGGER POINTS
All trigger points cause pain when pressed; however, “active” trigger points refer pain to other areas of the body. While a “latent” trigger point can be tender when pressed, a latent trigger point won’t give the same referral pain like an active trigger point.
As the National Association of Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists explains:
“If unaddressed or ineffectively treated, eventually, other muscles around the dysfunctional one may be required to ”take up the slack“, becoming stressed and developing secondary trigger points. It is not unusual for chronic pain patients to have multiple, overlapping referred pain patterns, making diagnosis and treatment more complex.”
TRIGGER POINT RECOVERY PERIOD
The length of time it takes to release a trigger point depends on the following factors:
- How long you have had your trigger point.
- The number of trigger points you have.
- How effective your current treatment is.
- How consistently you can administer or receive treatment.
Today, you can go to a massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor or even a trigger point specialist to receive manual trigger point therapy, but the success of the treatment depends on the skill level of the practitioner. Well-trained trigger point therapists are very hard to come by, not to mention expensive.
Trigger points can be fickle; they need to be worked out ’daily’ using a technique. Going to your therapist on a daily basis can be costly and time-consuming. There must be something you can do to personally manage your trigger points at home.
MANAGING YOUR TRIGGER POINTS AT HOME
Some people are reluctant to have trigger point therapy done due to the fact that some (latent) trigger points can be painful when pressed. To work out your trigger points, begin by warming the affected muscle with slow, repetitive muscle strokes, along with the entire length of the taut band within the muscle. Work from one end of the muscle to the other. Your pressure against the muscle should start out light, and gradually increase.
Clair Davies, the author of the book “The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook”, says, “Only you will be able to decide what you can tolerate and what you can’t. Use your judgment; aim at a pain level of seven on a scale of 1 to 10. Repeat this sequence of compression and movement until your pain level is about two or three.” This repeated action moves the blood and lymph fluid out more efficiently. Use a self-massage tool designed for trigger points with a “Trigger Point Map” to help you locate trigger point locations. This way you can localize your problematic spot, find the trigger points and effectively treat them.
Simply massaging your skin with a massage lotion will not solve the problem. What it needs is sufficient deep sustained pressure to the “knotted-up area” to increase blood flow. It will also help remove any buildup of toxic metabolic waste. This will reset your neuromuscular system to restore its proper function so everything will again work the way it should.
Sometimes, it is more empowering to be able to treat and care for yourself. Investing in a tool for muscle care that you can use long term is more cost efficient than seeing a professional. It is more practical and gives you the freedom to do your therapy at your own convenience.
“There is no substitute for learning to control your own musculoskeletal pain,” says Dr. Simons. “Treating myofascial trigger points yourself addresses the source of that kind of common pain and is not just a way of temporarily relieving it.” In other words, you now can fix your own trigger points better than anyone else.
Finally, someone has spoken the truth! Dr. Simons has it exactly right:
You must educate yourself about your condition and then apply what you’ve learned. From time to time, you may need medical advice. But the bottom line is, you need to take responsibility for managing your own care.