The truth behind ‘Trigger points’
So many clients ask me “What is a knot?” “Why are my muscles so hard and painful?”. In this post we discuss tight muscles and the painful points found in them called trigger points, also commonly referred to as muscular knots.
Trigger points can affect your body by:
- Causing pain and discomfort
- Limiting range of movement (which leads to muscle compensation)
- Decreasing tissue health if surrounding muscle is contracted (decreased flow of essential body fluids)
- Creating pain in other areas of your body
- Possibly engaging other trigger points, known as satellite points
Now let’s focus on where the knots are generally found.
Each muscle has fibres that run in one direction and do two jobs – contract and relax. Muscles can get stuck in contraction or spasm due to several variables which I will explain by using examples:
Our muscles can get overstimulated when we use them in new or unfamiliar ways. When we do this, the muscles will often contract to protect the body. Take for example, going back to doing exercise after some time off. Your muscles are now expected to work for longer periods, work faster, and perform unusual movements. Immediately after, or the next day, you find your body stiffened up. This is because your body was not accustomed to the movements and felt safer “holding” the muscles in close to the body, giving them time to recover and relax.
Another common case I see is after a client has woken in the middle of the night, all of a sudden feeling a pinch or twist to the neck. While seconds before their neck was relaxed in sleep state, a sharp movement shocks the muscles and it go into spasm.
I like to use a “stress relief ball” as an example of overuse. If you continue to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze the ball, you start to crossover from overstimulation to overuse.
Fibres in your muscle bands get tighter, don’t want to stretch out as far, and points start to get tender. Hello trigger point! Your muscle gets so tired from the stimulation and wants to protect itself, so it doesn’t extend to its normal healthy length.
When clients come in presenting pain due to a sedentary job, it is generally due to a combination of overstimulation leading to overuse. For example, your lower back is put under pressure continuously due to long hours driving. Initially your back muscles are a bit surprised at the effort needed to maintain that sitting position, so they gets sore. If you push through that, you are then overusing the muscles in the area and they hardly have the ability to go back to a healthy length.
Your muscles are like sponges and are happiest when they are well hydrated. If your tissues are dry and weary, they are less likely to have a healthy flow of body fluids through them, and are more likely to lock up.
This is a causative factor that is harder to measure by scientific means, however it is a self diagnosis and complaint from many of my clients. Stress seems to manifest itself in tissue. If you are unable to feel free and released from stress, your body retains in the muscle tissue.
However, painful spots don’t have to be localised to only the belly of the muscle. In many cases, pain felt in one area can be relieved by treating another, sometimes on the opposite side of the body. In this instance that pain is what we call a referred pain, which has been the focus of many studies and books. This leads us to ask the question if the trigger point is only a nervous response triggered by the brain, as opposed to an actual physical nodule in the muscle causing the pain.
So how can massage therapy help treat muscular pain and trigger points once they have formed?
Massage therapy is one of oldest forms of healthcare with written records dating back to China and Egypt in approximately 2500 BCE. Just because it is an ancient form of healthcare doesn’t mean it’s outdated. On the contrary, it gives massage credibility as it’s stood the test of time.
By treating the body naturally, without the use of drugs, massage assists the body’s natural healing process. Massage has been proven to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system which decreases the brain’s threat perception (for example, if long hours at work manifests stress into your muscles) to allow the body to relax and also decrease pain.
Techniques such as direct pressure on the point, frictions across the muscle, and long deep strokes can be applied to the body. The effect of massaging a general area as opposed to a particular point creates a more comprehensive web of pressure that can still dissipate pain and soften the body. A good massage therapist will work with intention to relieve the pain, and check in with the client along the way to ensure techniques are being effective.
Over the years I have completed 1000’s of hours of treatments, improving my client’s wellbeing and lifestyle. No two treatments have been the same, and nor should they be. Each body is different, and even from day to day everyone’s body changes. One thing is universal though, we are only given one body in this life, so we had best take care of it.
If you would like to learn more about massage or have questions you would like answered in future blogs, please get in touch on facebook or via email. If you would like to experience massage first hand you can click the booking button on the right hand side and I will be happy to treat you!
Remedial Massage Specialist
Total Health Brookvale