We all want to live pain free, maintaining our mobility and independent lifestyle.
Managing chronic pain is a critical part of that. But there are many misconceptions about how chronic pain should be treated, and the wrong treatment can actually make your condition worse.
That’s why I chose to interview Dr. Hal Blatman, founder and medical director of the Blatman Health and Wellness Center and Past-President of the American Holistic Medical Association.
During the interview we discussed the hidden causes and controversial treatments of chronic pain. That’s when I asked him for a straight answer about which treatments can heal and which can harm.
Pay close attention to his definition and approach to “trigger points.” These trouble areas are the hidden sources of pain in your body, and the key to finding lasting relief.
Below you’ll find that excerpt from the interview so you can get the answer direct from one of the world’s leading experts on myofascial pain… along with the option to listen to the rest of the interview.
Jesse: Now Dr. Blatman I wanted to ask a few basic questions because people listening may have heard of trigger points before and fascia and fibromyalgia and so on but before we go further let me ask some basic questions that might help set the stage for people who aren’t that familiar with these terms.
First, can you in the most basic terms describe what a trigger point is? You mentioned part of it a little earlier but what it is and how it comes about?
Dr. Blatman: It’s a place in the muscle where the muscle’s fibers have gotten stuck in contraction and the fascia seems to be wound around itself. It comes from an injury to the muscle or an injury to its attachment to the skeletal system.
So when you jump off a swing or out of the hayloft you might remember the sting in the bottom of your feet because your shoes weren’t padded enough but you don’t remember you tweaked your hip tendons and caused an injury. Sometimes that injury turns out to be significant later in life and sometimes it doesn’t and those injuries add up with time.
So you get that injury and then your muscle pulls on it and the attachment isn’t strong enough to support the muscle pull. So there is a little tweak in the fascia system and that creates the trigger point and pain.
The only reason we’ve been able to nail that down as a major cause of pain in the body is we have the use of platelet rich plasma that helps the body grow new strings of fascia very quickly in like a 3- to 6-week period of time, producing dramatic changes in people’s pain from headache to foot pain. It has really changed the way we think of injury and pain and even long term pain that has been there for years.
Jesse: Thanks for that I think that was helpful. Now is that the only way trigger points can come about or can they manifest in other ways?
Dr. Blatman: There has to be an injury. We’ve found trigger points in infants and babies and so there has to be some sort of injury that creates this imbalance in the fascia system.
Everybody has trigger points in some part of their body and a lot of us have trigger points in most of our body. If you have sore shoulders and someone rubs your shoulders and it hurts so good when they rub on it and then they feel looser and better for a while afterwards someone has just pushed on the knots in those muscles.
Let me give you an interesting example. When a muscle is in a knot and tight, that tight part we call the trigger point needs more oxygen to stay tight. Unfortunately, blood can’t get in and deliver any extra oxygen and that means all your tight muscles are holding their breath.
Not only that, but if blood can’t deliver oxygen it also can’t wash away the exhaust the muscle creates. So all your tight muscles are full of toxins and every time you take that muscle and give it a squeeze whether it’s pushing on the trigger point or giving it a massage you change that.
You squeeze out the toxins, allow the muscle to suck in new blood and you help the muscle or force it to breathe. That can be a tremendous help with that little rubber ball for the parts you can’t reach and your hands are on the muscles for the parts you can reach and you can do so much body work to help yourself get out of pain.
It’s a shame that more of us don’t know how to do that to be able to teach people who come to them with all these pain problems.
So all we have to do, all we are actually taught in medicine about pain, is how to prescribe medicine so that’s why you end up on pain pills. Then we’re taught to prescribe the anti-inflammatory drugs first. I don’t know if this is a good time or not but we should talk about why those anti-inflammatory drugs are such a bad choice for the average person in pain.
Jesse: Definitely let’s do that but before we go there I want to stay where we’re at a little longer because I think the descriptive example you gave was great and really helped paint a picture of what happens and how a trigger point comes about, what happens when you massage or apply pressure to it and how, like you said, taking a breath and releasing.
I think that was a great example. I just want to add a couple of things to that. One of the other tools that we like is the Theracane, or the back knobber, it’s one of those cane devices…
Dr. Blatman: I recommend that tool a lot because it really lets you push on that trigger point that no other tool can get in deep enough to do.
Jesse: Right and it’s great because it allows you to get to some of the hard to reach places on your own if you don’t have someone to help you or you can’t afford to go to a body work specialist.
The other one is the trigger point platform that we recommend where you can adjust the platform with what we call “digits” to different angles, sizes and positions so you can actually lay on it completely relaxed. One of the downsides to the cane approach is when you’re holding the cane with 2 hands you’re tensing the muscles in the hands and forearms, biceps and shoulders and it’s not ideal to try and relax a muscle in the upper back when you’re tensing all the muscles in the arms and shoulders.
We found if and when possible it’s best to have the muscles completely relaxed especially the muscles in that area. Now if you’re applying pressure with your thumb to the outside of your thigh well your leg can be completely relaxed while your arm is tensed to do the work and that’s a little different.
Dr. Blatman: That is a really good point, you can’t get a muscle to stretch unless you make it limp. You can’t push on your knots effectively if you’re contracting the muscle with tension at the same time.
We’ve taught people how to use that “back knobber” if you’re using it on your upper shoulders to get their knees on a pillow and lean their head toward the floor and let their body weight push that back knobber into their shoulder. It takes a little agility and talent but it really brings out your point, if you’re going to use that tool on your upper body you need to find a way to use it so your muscles don’t have to do the work.
Otherwise, it’s a great lower body tool and so it’s really useful. We also use an Acu-Masseur which you can use to pinch your upper traps and put a real good squeeze on them. You can use it on your neck, forearm, legs, thighs… another good body working tool but all these tools you’re talking about are ways to be able to get a mechanical advantage to push with more force on these knots in your muscles to get your fascia to loosen.
So it’s important to tell people you’re allowed to push as hard as you want as long as you can totally relax with the discomfort you cause and we call that a “good” hurt, whether it’s from your massage therapist or the tools you’re using or the rubber ball or your own hands.
Jesse: Yeah and it’s such an important skill to learn, I think personally, to learn how to self-care like this. Aches and pains crop up so often and many times they are caused by trigger points and you can quickly let go or release that trigger point on your own. Me personally having learned it years ago, any time I have something come up, unless I know it was caused by something else that’s the first thing I start with.
Like recently my elbow was kind of irritated and even starting to swell up and I knew it was coming from my trigger points in my traps. It stemmed from not sleeping well one night. So I worked on these trigger points all throughout the upper left shoulder and upper back and within about 2 days I got all those trigger points worked out on my own and then my elbow went back to normal.
But most people in that situation would go to the doctor and the doctor would say let me take a look at that elbow and oh it’s inflamed so here is a prescription or oh we need to take an X-ray to see what’s wrong with it.
Dr. Blatman: That’s exactly right and so let’s talk about that prescription for a second because you can bet it’s going to be an anti-inflammatory medication.
Dr. Blatman: And what people don’t know is the inflammation you’re taking that drug to stop is the very inflammation you need to heal that injury. There is a study that shows for ankle sprains, if you treat those ankle sprains and it was with Army recruits so we’re talking about people who are in relatively good shape, half the group you give an anti-inflammatory drug to and the other half you don’t, what the study shows is the ones who took the medicine had less pain from their ankle sprain and got back to work a little faster but 6 months later their ankle was still unstable and still uncomfortable compared to the people who did not take that drug.
So the message here is these medications that stop the inflammation you need stop your body’s ability to heal so you don’t heal as well. You may not swell and hurt as much but you also don’t heal as well. Those are not necessarily your friend and that’s in addition to the damage they cause to your kidneys and the injury they cause to your stomach those drugs aren’t your friend.
So all our friends and colleagues and patients who take Motrin, Advil and ibuprofen after their tennis match or golf game, you want your body to heal those injuries. The same thing with ice, if you put ice on your wound, you sugar coat your injury, you don’t swell as much and you also slow your metabolism so you heal slower.
We find if we get people to go home and put moist heat on it they speed up their temperature, speed up their metabolism and speed up their healing and while their friends are still sitting with ice on their ankle a week later, they’re up and walking with less pain in 3 or 4 days sometimes.
Dr. Blatman: So rethinking all these things that have to do with injury and pain is well worth our time and effort.
Jesse: Those are some great points there. One of the reasons we recommend, like you do, far infrared heat and for the same reasons you mentioned which is increasing the blood flow and circulation and not decreasing it. Again, like you said earlier about the trigger points, trigger points in order to relax and in order for that muscle to be healthy and heal it needs blood flow and oxygen from the blood and so increasing circulation is key.
The other thing I was going to say is nobody wants to be uncomfortable but the good news is there are ways you can mask the pain in a healthy way without actually preventing any of the healing. One example we encourage people to look into is the proteolytic enzymes which reduce inflammation but do so without slowing down or preventing healing like the NSAIDS.
Dr. Blatman: That’s so true, and those digestive enzymes, proteolytic enzymes can be just as effective reducing inflammation. Another thing we use a lot of is Arnica, topical Arnica when people have a wound. That seems to help the body heal and not get in the way of healing and seems to help bruising and pain go away.
Again, that’s just a short segment from my full interview with Dr. Hal Blatman.
Every month I record another interview with a leading doctor, nutritionist or other natural health specialist like Dr. Blatman so you can naturally relieve pain and live a healthier, more fulfilling life.
I always send the complete interview on CD to every member of our premium Live Pain Free® community along with the monthly print issue.
Plus, every Live Pain Free® member has full access to every past issue including well over 100 archived videos, audio interviews and special reports.
You can find my complete interview with Dr. Hal Blatman as well as his feature article in the archives under August 2014.