Every massage therapist in the history of massage therapists has heard AT LEAST one person (but probably hundreds) say "It's a knot right here!" or "It feels like a ball". If you've ever suffered from neck pain or upper back pain, you've probably said it before too. In many cases, this ball or knot is actually known as an active trigger point (s).
Trigger Points are essentially small bundles of muscle fibers which are constantly contracting even when there is no reason for it to be doing that. This in return results in lack of blood flow which definitely isn't good for healthy muscles. The lack of blood flow causes metabolic waste to pile up leaving the issue to just get worse if it isn't addressed. TP's (trigger points) can cause:
-pain anywhere in the body
Trigger points are actually very common but not so commonly known about!
Keep in mind that trigger points are different than the whole muscle just being tight. It's essentially the tightest part within the tight muscle. When you press on it, sometimes the muscle will literally push you back out. Knowing about trigger points is essential for dealing with musculoskeletal pain. One easy way to think about this is to imagine getting a back or neck massage from a loved one. When the person gets just the right area you usually proclaim, "Yes, that's the spot!". Often times this is the trigger point that is being touched.
Trigger points can be in different places for different people, but there are common areas for everyone where trigger points that are quite common.
Common Trigger Points:
Although trigger points can be anywhere in the body, these are the most common and are connected to headaches and migraines. A lot of times TP's also are a cause of not being able to turn your head in the morning. Have you ever woke up in pain without range of motion in your neck? This happens to me, and my previous clients, quite frequently. This makes me feel that it probably happens to you too!
Activation of Trigger Points can happen for a variety of reasons. Some of the common reasons include:
-Improper Muscle Use
-Injury while the muscle was contracting
-Response to Trauma
-Poor Blood Flow
One very important thing is learning how to find and treat TP's. As I mentioned earlier in this post, the TP is the tightest part of the muscle. It usually feels like a little ball beneath the skin. When you apply pressure, it might hurt, feel uncomfortable, or you might feel something in other parts of your body. This is called referral pain. Everything within the body is connected, so it isn't uncommon for one area to be causing pain in a different place.
You'll find various answers out there for how long to apply pressure but I'm going to tell you 2 different answers and you can make the decision of what works best for you after trying it.
In massage therapy school I was taught:
-Apply precise pressure for 6-10 seconds
-Do it again 3-5 minutes later
-Try this 3 times per session
In my personal experience with trigger point pain:
-Apply precise pressure for 30 seconds
-Release pressure for 30 seconds
-Apply pressure for another 30 seconds
I do this 3-5 times until it feels like the muscle has released and I'm not feeling any pain.
One other thing that I feel is essential is doing Myofascial Release after working with the TP's.
Fascia is the soft connective tissue that lines the whole body.
When we are inactive or don't stretch certain areas of the body, fascia can buildup and restrict our movement as well as cause structural imbalances. Myofascial release uses applying slow pressure at the correct angle to allow the body to release slowly. If you force it, you'll know because it will feel sharp and painful. The release sometimes feels uncomfortable, even when doing it properly, but that because structurally things are adjusting and moving with the body.
The other key piece to making lasting change is to find the disruptive pattern and fix it! Trigger points result in a shortened muscle which can cause other issues. When muscles aren't in their optimal state it negatively impacts blood flow, lymphatic drainage, and range of motion. The shortened muscle is much weaker than it should be which puts a strain on surrounding structures and muscles.