Trigger point therapy can be a somewhat difficult topic to navigate for those who are not familiar with the term, or how to treat the pain and discomfort associated with trigger points. In the following we will discuss some of the questions surrounding trigger points, the peer reviewed published medical clinical trials regarding trigger points, the therapies that address them, and some things that can be done at home to treat trigger points yourself.
A myofascial trigger point (MTrP) is a sometimes tender lump or pocket of trapped blood and lymph node fluid in a tight band of muscle tissue. This lump can become hard over time due to the calcification of fluid. When muscles are tense due to physical or emotional stress, the muscles constrict; impeding upon blood vessels, bones, and nerves. This creates a host of factors that contribute to the pain affiliated with trigger points.
Trigger points can best be identified by a few physical distinct features; tension in the muscles tissue or soreness in a particular spot, a "twitching" response to mechanical stimulation (such as firm pressure) and a lump or knot that is tender to the touch and is relatively smooth and symmetrical in size and feel. Any asymmetrical lumps and bumps should be brought to your primary medical practitioner.
More scientific research on what trigger points are and how they have been studied in the past here.
The medical treatment for trigger points.
According to a clinical trial published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; the medical approach for trigger point therapy is actually physically deflating the knot using a needle. In this particular trail, lidocaine injections were tested against another method called dry needling which is simply a needle inserted into the trigger point.
The results concluded that patients who received the lidocaine injection into their trigger points experienced less intensity and onset of post -injection soreness versus the dry needle insertion method.
More on that clinical trial here.
The noninvasive Therapeutic Option
To some, a needle to the back may not be the best method. A more noninvasive technique would be trigger point therapy. A massage therapist will first warm up the muscle tissue with general effleurage strokes or may use a hot towel in conjunction with myofascial elongating therapeutic techniques. Once the muscles are warmed up, the therapist will then feel the muscle fibers looking for any lumps, adhesions or irregular muscle tissue. Once found, direct pressure is applied, usually with the therapist elbow as deeper pressure is generally needed to rupture the trigger point pocket. After about 15-20 seconds of holding pressure on the trigger point. The client should feel a slight deflation feeling depending on the level of tension and how large the trigger point is. If the trigger point is hard, it may feel like a lump rolling around in the back. A therapist should take care to stabilize the trigger point with one hand and apply whichever techniques used to rupture the trigger point with the other hand, this will minimize movement. The client may also feel nothing at all if they fall asleep during massage. Lastly effleurage is applied again to move fluids out and further promote relaxation.
What if you can't afford Trigger Point Therapy?
In order to genuinely experience the full benefits of trigger point therapy, one would have to devote enough time to the process which usually takes more than a traditional 60 minute session (ideally 2 hours would be enough time to devote to a trigger point session for those who know they have plenty of issues to address). However, that type of devotion to wellness may be in the hearts of everyone, but is definitely not in the wallets of everyone, making this type of therapy, out of reach for most. Luckily, there are alternatives to help treat trigger point pain and tension yourself.
Get a Handheld Trigger Point Massage Stick
Trigger Point Massage sticks are a great way to help combat trigger points on a solo level. These massager tools usually come in the form of a curved cane with hard spherical nodes on the ends that you press into the muscle to break apart trigger points.
More info on what I mean can be found here.
Another at home solution.
Use a tennis ball. By rolling a tennis ball back and forth over a trigger point, then gently press into the area with gradual pressure. If the knot is in the back, place the tennis ball between your back and a wall, slowly move the ball around until it is right above the treatment zone, then gently press your back against the ball. The wall will provide strength and stability needed to press deeper into the area. You can pick some up here.
The bottom Line
The most important takeaway here is that we all need to be more in tune with our bodies and what they are saying to us. What is and what is not right for you can only be found within. Try everything within reason, and see what works best for you.