Today I’m going to demystify trigger points so you can begin to learn how to fix your own pain. I’m not going to get deep into the science of trigger points, but rather I want to help you understand what they are so you can start to learn how to find them, and release them. By learning some of the basics of trigger points, you can start to take care of your own pain problems that may arise through overuse and injury.
What is a Trigger Point?
Basically, a trigger point is a hyper-irritable spot that can feel like a knot or tight area in a muscle. When you have a trigger point, it can cause pain, not just where the trigger point is (although sometimes you’ll get pain there), but also pain that extends far from the trigger point, and that’s called “referred pain.”
Referred pain patterns have been mapped out in two medical textbooks called "Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, volumes 1 and 2" by Dr. Janet G. Travell and Dr. David Simons. Myofascial trigger point therapists are trained in these referred pain patterns, as well as the techniques used to release trigger points, relieving pain and restoring function.
Understanding Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy
The idea behind the technique of myofascial trigger point therapy is that in order to get contracted muscles to relax and function properly, we hold pressure directly on the trigger points, one-by-one, and allow them to release, allowing the muscle to lengthen. We then bring the muscle through its normal range of motion to continue to restore length and function.
Let’s say you have a referred pain in your head – maybe you have headaches that are in the temple area or that come up the back of the neck and around to the head. That pain pattern can come from a trigger point in the upper trapezius muscle. Right along the top of the seam of your shirt that runs between your neck and the shoulder, you may be able to press and find a tight area, a knotted area, or even just a more dense feeling area. When you hold pressure on that spot you can feel tenderness or pain underneath your finger on that spot, but you may also get the referred pain that goes up the back of the neck, around the head and to the temples. That’s the referred pain from that trigger point. If you hold pressure on that spot for 7-10 seconds or even longer (you can hold it up to a minute or more if you’d like) you might feel the referred pain from that trigger point and then you might even feel the pain start to go away. You may or may not feel a release happening right then.
That is the basic technique we use in myofascial trigger point therapy. We find the tight spot in the muscle, hold pressure directly on it, and allow the trigger point to deactivate. The muscle relaxes, and then you can bring it through its normal range of motion and pain starts to go away. Myofascial trigger point therapists are trained to know all the referred pain patterns that come from trigger points in all the muscles. It’s helpful to know these patterns to be able to trace muscle pain back to the source.
However, just knowing about referred pain and trigger points can help you learn how to fix your own pain. You can try this technique on your own tight muscles and see if you can begin to fix your own pain. I’d love to hear from you and hear how it goes, if you do give it a try.