What are Trigger Points?
The term ‘trigger point’ is something you have most likely heard of, but probably know little about. If you have ever had someone treat your trigger points, you know they are a painful annoyance and very tender when worked on.
Basically trigger points form because of muscle injuries, strains, and trauma. When the fibers of the muscle, fascia, ligaments, or tendons become damaged, overworked, overstretched, or inflamed there are tiny tears which occur in the tissue. When the tissue is healing it contracts and becomes twisted and knotted. Blood supply is often restricted in these knotted fibers and a shortening of the muscle fibers is a kind of defense mechanism to protect itself from further injury.
Stress, either physical or emotional, can also influence muscles which can result in a knot or trigger point, resulting in a decreased range of motion and restricted movement around the area. Trigger points can feel like a hard, rope-like or knotted band in the muscle. Picture a string with a knot in it. Your body is more or less 40% muscle fibers so there is a lot of opportunities for these dreaded trigger points to cause you pain.
If you have knotted up muscles and your therapist starts working on ironing out those trigger points, then they will essentially aim to stretch the muscle fibers out and release the pain. You can get your fingertips, thumbs, fist, elbow or whatever feels easiest and most comfortable to you if you want to attack them yourself. For harder to reach spots you might try a tennis, golf or lacrosse ball. Using one of these balls will focus on the point and do a lot better job than a foam roller which is used for a broader area approach to muscle therapy. The goal of this type of self treatment is to achieve a “release”. Aim to stimulate the trigger point by applying a medium, not overly painful, pressure on the point. The trigger point may feel sore for a few hours after you have self treated it, but soon calm down within 24 hours and you should notice a reduction in tightness.
After the release it is a great time to start stretching out the muscles. You should feel some good relief from the stretching, but if you don’t and it even increases the pain then go back to trying to release the trigger point again. You may need to do this cycle several times before you know that you have essentially untied that knot in your muscle.
Relieving your pain from these trigger points and knots is one thing, but you really have to find out why they occurred in the first place so you can stop them from always returning.