The human body is amazing. It is an incredible machine. 600 skeletal muscles work with 206 bones to hold a person upright and put one into motion. Healthy muscle tissue moves in a full range of motion without pain; however, when a muscle is not at its healthiest, movement can become uncomfortable or even inhibited. This can occur for any number of reasons including: poor diet, overuse, poor posture, and trauma. The body is meant to heal itself and in that process inflammation can occur, leaving the muscle fibers irritated, causing the fibers to twist and contract, leaving what feels like a hard, tender lump. If this adhesion creates a pattern of referred pain, a trigger point is formed.
Trigger points can and do occur throughout the body. Research has shown that many of these points create specific pain patterns. For example, a trigger point in the Pectoralis Major, or chest muscle, often creates pain in the anterior portion of the Deltoid, or shoulder. While a trigger point in the Piriformis muscle, a muscle that sits beneath all three Glut muscles, creates pain that refers through the buttocks, wrapping around the side of the hip. This information is very valuable in treating trigger points. If a health care professional such as a massage therapist or physical therapist can easily identify the likely location of a trigger point based on where the client is feeling pain, it streamlines the treatment process. This means massage clients can get to feeling better faster through the identification of these areas.
There are several ways to treat trigger points. What method a therapist uses is based on the severity of the pain, the location of the point, and personal preference. A few approaches include: ischemic compression, cross fiber friction, and positional release. With ischemic compression, direct pressure of the adhesion is held for 10-30 seconds over a span of a few minutes. The physical pressure of the therapist’s fingers pushes blood from the tissue. Upon release, blood rushes back into the tissue to deliver oxygen and other helpful healing aids. The therapist presses until the pain begins to dissipate, then presses a little deeper, repeating the process and encouraging the release of endorphins to the muscle. With cross fiber friction, the therapist uses their fingers to engage the deeper layers of tissue and separate muscle fibers, breaking up adhesions as they go. It is recommended that this technique be performed in one direction across the muscle and not in a sawing back and forth motion. Positional release is a technique that helps to decrease discomfort during treatment by pressing on the trigger point and shortening the muscle belly. This technique is used for 30-90 seconds intervals until the nervous system sends a signal to “reset” the muscle. A stretch is then applied to the muscle to help gain length and range of motion.
Although trigger points, and their associated pain, are apart of life’s lesser aspects, a trained massage therapist can provide treatment helping to achieve swift pain relief.