Meta: Trigger points are painful but with proper treatment, can aid muscle recovery. Learn more about Therabody and the benefits of targeting these sensitive areas.
Trigger points are painful and can cause both short and long-term ailments. However, targeting these points with proper self-massage techniques can have many benefits, including promoting rapid muscle recovery. There are numerous trigger points located on the back, shoulders and nap that we can personally reach without relying on a partner or professional. Read on to learn more about trigger points and what tools you need before you begin.
What are Trigger Points?
Trigger points are acute sensitive muscle areas that, when applying pressure, cause local pain and intense pain that radiates into other muscle areas. This triggering pain is known as “referred pain”. This “referred pain” is one characteristic that separates it from “tender points,” which is easily mixed up without a proper examination from a doctor. The connection between these muscles might seem unrelated, but in order to effectively relieve this pain, it is important to understand how trigger points function and how relief can aid in rapid recovery.
When pressing on a trigger point, the muscle fibers tense up, sending signals to the brain, which results in pain in other areas. For example, a common source of headaches are trigger points located along the neck, shoulders and back. These sensitive points can radiate up your spine, through your neck and cause chronic “tension” headaches or migraines. The symptoms are similar to pressure points – by targeting trigger points, it can aid in headache relief, in addition to muscle recovery.
How are Trigger Points Formed?
In order to avoid pain caused by trigger points, it’s beneficial to understand how they are formed in the first place. The most common way is from repetitive and sustained movements. For example, most people who work at a desk can suffer from trigger points from seemingly harmless movements such as using a mouse or typing, staying seated for long periods of time or even scrolling on a cellphone. Other repetitive movements are answering a phone, doing garden-work or sitting at a desk.
Sustained lifting can also form trigger points. People who weight train are prone to developing them – however, sustained lifting responsibilities occur in occupational and daily hazards as well. Nurses moving patients, parents carry their children or a warehouse worker loading up inventory boxes can all form trigger points from carrying sustained loads. These points get worse with increased frequency and time if not manageable properly.
Additionally, there are many more seemingly non-physical ways to get trigger points. Living a sedentary lifestyle and staying seated or in bed for prolonged periods of time can lead to poor posture. Even mental and emotional stress can be causes since stress can manifest in our bodies, making them tense up, putting our muscles under physical duress. Similarly, studies have shown that lack of exercise may also lead to trigger point formation.
Consequences of Untreated Trigger Points
If trigger points are left untreated, it can mean further health consequences. Not managing them properly and frequently can mean more than just short-term pain – they could lead to long term chronic disorders. Read on to learn more about the potential health risks of untreated trigger points.
Of the most extreme, myofascial pain syndrome, which requires more intensive treatment, is a chronic disorder that can worsen over time. However, if treated on a regular basis, the pain can be manageable and key for quicker muscle recovery. Treatments include temporary relief for symptoms, since no form of a drug has been developed that is able to eliminate trigger points. Among these treatments are:
- Trigger point injections
- Muscle relaxants
- NSAIDs and other analgesics
These treatments help alleviate symptoms temporarily and have not been proven to be beneficial in the long run. In actuality, they may actually cause further harm by masking symptoms. Muscular causes of pain are not widely taught in medical training, but isgaining traction. Primary care providers may refer you to a myofascial trigger point specialist, which can lead to successfully treating trigger points at the source.
Trigger Point Symptoms
If you’ve been suffering from chronic back pain and headaches, then it’s a strong indicator that you might have trigger points. Here is a short list of other common symptoms of trigger points.
- Back, neck or shoulder pain
- Headaches and migraines
- Poor posture
- Poor sleep quality
- Hand/arm pain
- Arthritis or joint pain
Trigger points can also be a symptom of more severe health problems that require more intensive care and treatment. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to schedule a proper medical evaluation with your healthcare provider for a more accurate diagnosis.
Common Locations for Back Trigger Points
On the back, the most common trigger points are located in the upper region around the shoulders. Along the top of the shoulders, the shoulder blades and the back of the neck carry the most stress. Other common locations associated with headaches are the elbows, the knees and thighs. Check out this chart from American Family Physician Foundation for more detail on where these points are located and their respective referred pain areas. Keep these locations in mind when conducting your self-massages.
What Is Rapid Recovery?
Basically, rapid recovery is faster muscle recovery. There are many things you can do to promote faster recovery, self-massage being among them. A few other tips and tricks to help your muscles recover are:
- Drinking a lot of water
- Getting more quality sleep
- Consuming more protein throughout the day
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Cold compress/ice baths
In addition to trying these tips, getting massages and foam-rolling are great ways to promote muscle recovery and a more specific way to target trigger points. Read on to learn how massage can help rapid recovery.
How Does Self Massage Help Rapid Recovery?
Massaging tense muscles after a workout is widely accepted to promote pain relief – but why? Simply put, the applied pressure can actually help muscles relax by improving circulation. Self-massaging with constant frequency can bring longer relief, breaking down scar tissue and act as a soothing technique. For active lifestyles and weight training, making this a habit is most beneficial immediately after intense exercise. Further, it is important to practice safe techniques when massaging.
While going to a professional masseuse is ideal, for some, it’s not always a feasible option. Fortunately, learning self-massage techniques can offer up both short-term and long-term relief. For those with high pain tolerance, deep tissue massages reach further into the tissue and release more tension. It’s a great way to isolate trigger points. It’s difficult to apply so much pressure that it causes muscle damage. So if you can tolerate high pain, go for it. However, if the pain is sharp or has a tingling or numbing sensation, this could be a sign of a more serious injury. Consulting a medical professional would be best.
Not everyone can withstand intense pain for long. A great alternative to deep-tissue massages would be the Lomi Lomi massage technique. This type of massage, originating from Hawaii, uses broad, relaxing strokes and movements. Read more about its benefits and how Lomi Lomi massages promotes overall body wellness. It is possible to practice Lomi Lomi and other more delicate techniques on yourself.
How to Get Started: Trigger Point Massage Techniques
Now that you know which trigger points to target, it’s time to learn proper self-massage techniques. These are especially helpful when a partner or a professional is not accessible. Some helpful tools include:
- Foam rollers: Therabody’s wave roller allows you to massage out your back without the need of a partner. It is up to you to choose how much pressure to apply and can cover more surface area. However, it is not suggested for use on the neck area.
- Theragun mini: the Theragun mini model is designed with an ergonomic handle. It is comfortable to use when targeting trigger points along your shoulders. It is not recommended for use on the neck. The mini accessories offer more precise tips to really focus on smaller areas.
- Your hands: your fingers and palms are great tools and you can obviously control the strength of your own massage.
With any of these, the first step is to locate the problematic tight spots. Using your fingers, you begin to press slowly but firmly into the muscle. Repeat this step for at least three to five minutes. With the foam roller, slowly roll over the problem areas on your back and repeat. If using a Theragun, slowly glide over the sensitive areas, concentrating on areas that are more painful. It is best to perform these mini massages multiple times a day for optimal results.
In summary, if you are able to commit to frequent massages, they can promote overall wellness over time. Unattended trigger points can lead to more serious illnesses down the road, so it is important to manage these painful areas as they come up. However, the best way to avoid the possibility of trigger points are to exercise routinely and to stay away from repetitive or sustained movements.