“I keep hearing you talk about Trigger Points. What are they? I’ve never heard of them before so they’re just the latest theory right?” – most people.
“Let’s test this “theory”, shall we?” – Me, reaching out to press a point on said person, causing a squeal only dogs and bodyworkers would register.
Trigger points are the most misunderstood and under recognized issue that I have encountered in bodywork thus far. They are not a new “theory”, either. They are an established, studied, and proven thing that is gaining more recognition by eastern and western practices alike. Definitions range, and practices to get rid of them do as well, but the major point is a Trigger point is a point in your muscle that is so congested that it causes pain.
Any movement you make – be it your finger clicking that mouse, your eye moving over these words, or the eyebrows that just moved upwards curiously – are all made by muscles. There are over 300 pairs of bilateral muscles (over 600 muscles total). They all have individual functions, so that when you flex a finger in your left hand, it does not also lift your left arm. A separate muscle does that. So, with all this departmentalizing of functions in the body, think about how doing one motion repetitively might affect a muscle.
The problem with doing one thing over and over is that that muscle may not have time to heal properly. It has to continue to work. So the body, in trooper spirit, just throws a fix on any injuries (we’ll call it a band aid) and keeps working. This leads to more band aids and eventually congestion in the area. At this point, the tiny, congested area is called a Trigger Point. Trigger points block blood and nerve supply, snowballing its own healing abilities and causing pain.
Eventually the pain can spread along the nerve line and be felt in other areas of the body even though the injury site is only a few cells wide. It’s like a car wreck on 270. Even though it was only two cars to begin with, there is now a 2 hour delay involving hundreds of not-so-happy commuters. In the same way the car wreck starts small, so do these points. They’re on the cellular level. If you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t remember hurting that muscle,” that’s kind of my point. No one notices the injury, so they keep working through it. When stuff starts to hurt later, it’s not clear why or when it happened.
Also, trigger points and muscle injury are not limited to overuse; the same situation occurs for static-held positions. So, going back to cars, let’s stop traffic completely from Germantown to Bethesda. Then, let’s have people go from 0-60 instantly. It doesn’t work, and people crash. Your body is like that, too. Sitting in, laying in, or holding a bad/awkward position for extended periods of time can change how your body responds to movement. If you leave it in one position for too long, it will stiffen up like day old spaghetti.
The body in this case needs to unglue those parts, and may need some assistance. Slow movements are key to not ripping stuff and (yay!) massage is helpful in this process. But if you rush it and pull something, the body will deal with it like it does any injury – patch it up and move on. And now you have trigger points here, too.
“So massage will make them go away?”
Well, I can’t really say massage treats them, because technically your body does the work. I practice Strain-Counter strain (read more about that here), and basically, it brings your body’s attention to the spot while I place the muscle into a relaxed state. it is a simple, nearly pain-free way of helping the body extinguish these points. So if you have Trigger points, massage is a great way to get rid of them, but the best cure is prevention. Guess what? Massage does that, too! Taking care of your muscles is just as important as taking care of your hair, teeth, and the rest of your body. Your body does a great job keeping things in order, but it does need help from time to time.
Wishing you well,
Meredith Lynch, RMP