Trigger Point Therapy

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By Steven Hefferon, PTA, CMT

Back pain is huge. It costs the US economy billions of dollars annually from lost wages and productivity. And everyone has it. But did you know that while most doctors give different names to back, neck and shoulder pain… most people’s pain is cause by the same thing? And that is Trigger!

Trigger Points were unheard of 20 years ago in the mainstream medical community. Today, they are a much studied and talked about phenomenon causing chronic pain and suffering in millions of people.

What are Trigger Points?

Trigger points are small contraction knots that develop in muscle and tissue when an area of the body is stressed, “frozen,” injured or overworked. Do you sit at your desk or drive a car for hours each day, being in effect “frozen” in place? Do you work in manual labor or play a musical instrument, causing repetitive poses and movements all day? All of these things can cause tiny land mines about the size of a dime to erupt deep in your muscle tissue. These are trigger points!

The hallmark of trigger point annoyance and havoc on the body is something called “referred” pain. This means that trigger points typically send their pain to some other place in the body, which is why conventional treatments for pain so often fail.

Many health care practitioners wrongly assume that the problem is located where the person feels the pain. Improper diagnostic methods therefore fail to assess the body correctly to find the root cause of your pain… and your chronic suffering.

Trigger points can occur as a result of muscle trauma (from car accidents, falls, sports- and work-related injuries, etc.), muscle strain from repetitive movements at work or play, postural strain from standing or sitting improperly for long periods at the computer, emotional stress, anxiety, allergies, nutritional deficiencies, inflammation, and toxins in the environment. A single event can initiate a trigger point, and you can suffer the effects for the rest of your life if that trigger point is not addressed properly.

Your body’s instinctive reaction to a stressful or traumatic “event” is to protect itself. It does this by altering the way you move, sit, or stand, which puts abnormal stress on your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. This produces strength and flexibility imbalances–as well as postural dysfunction–throughout your body.

If that weren’t bad enough, your blood flow can become restricted or “locked” in these points, which can cause your peripheral and central nervous systems to begin sending out those “referred” pain signals, making assessment and treatment a tricky business. That’s why some experts believe that trigger points are the origination of fibromyalgia.

Here’s Why You May be Suffering

To better illustrate the process, here’s an example of how one trigger point in one muscle can cause back pain, sciatica, or a herniated disc. The most common place for a trigger point is in the muscle of the lower back called the quadratus lumborum (QL), which is located just above your hips. Regardless of what kind of event sparks the trigger point, your QL will gradually become dysfunctional – that is, the QL will tighten and shorten. And as you limit its use, it will weaken.

As the QL becomes dysfunctional, it will alter the position of the pelvis. As the pelvis becomes dysfunctional, it will force the spine into an abnormal curvature that will put abnormal pressure on the discs. Over time, the discs will begin to bulge. This situation will get progressively worse, affecting your overall quality of life. Inactivity and depression often follow. All of this from a single event that occurred in one moment in time!.

Are You Suffering From Trigger Points?

If you have lingering pain, tightness, or restriction of certain movements, it’s a good bet that you’re feeling the effects of trigger points. And these pain spots may produce symptoms as diverse as headache, neck and jaw pain, low back pain, sciatica, dizziness, earaches, sinusitis, nausea, heartburn, false heart pain, heart arrhythmia, genital pain, and numbness in the hands and feet.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that the “hidden root source” of our shoulder, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle pain that is so often mistaken for arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, or ligament injury… is actually Trigger Points!

Here are a few more symptoms you should know about: If you have restless leg syndrome, you have TPs; if your teeth hurt, you have TPs; if your workouts have plateaued, you have TPs; if you have painful menses or irritable bowel syndrome, you have TPs.

How does Trigger Point Therapy work?

The good news is, with deep and focused pressure to these areas you can release this pain from your body. Simply rubbing the surface of the skin with massage oil, a vibrating massager – or using heat – will not heal these pain sports. No way.

What it needs is sufficient deep sustained pressure to the “knotted-up area.” As you work the Trigger Point, your body will undergo soft tissue release, allowing for increased blood flow, a reduction in muscle spasm, and the break-up of scar tissue. It will also help remove any build-up of toxic metabolic waste.

Your body will also undergo a neurological release, reducing the pain signals to the brain and resetting your neuromuscular system to restore its proper function. In other words, everything will again work the way it should.

How Long Does it Take to Get Relief?

The length of time it takes to release a trigger point depends on several factors, one of which is how long you have had your trigger point. Other factors include the number of trigger points you have, how effective your current treatment is, and how consistently you can administer or receive treatment.

Even if you are lucky enough to find a clinician who can properly assess your condition – let alone treat trigger points – it can be time consuming and costly to pay someone to completely release all the primary, latent, and myofascial trigger points you may have in your body. You can try going to a massage therapist, but trigger points are very fickle; they need to be addressed daily using a technique that will apply the pinpoint pressure that is needed. Most likely it will be impractical to see a massage therapist frequently enough to get a trigger point to release.

An Approach That Makes Sense

The basic idea is simply to apply sustained pressure on the trigger point area for a set period of time on a regular basis, usually about 90 seconds. There are a number of techniques out there that you can employ to do this. The bottom line is that you need to take the initiative.

What I’m saying here is that you need to take responsibility for managing your own care. From time to time, of course, you may find that you need help from healthcare professionals. But even so, the more you know, the better care you’re going to receive. This is naturally going to require some time and effort on your part, but the payoff will be faster with far better results.

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Did you know that in just minutes you can locate and self treat your trigger points? It’s true… you can get quick and lasting relief from all types of pain by using these simple self treatment techniques.

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