Trigger Point Therapy

Massage therapist working on a clients trigger points

Trigger point therapy is a great way to release muscles that might be locked. It can help with tight shoulders, necks and back and also chronic pain.

It is a specific form of massage that presses on points that then attach to muscles, helping those muscles release.

It can be a little painful (or a lot!)

Massage oil on man

What Is Trigger Point Therapy?

A trigger point is defined as a hyperirritable spot that’s found in a taut band of skeletal muscle. In simple terms, it’s a really tight area in your muscle tissue.

Trigger points are often referred to as muscle knots because of the way the muscle tissue almost balls itself together to create this tight point. 

The problem with trigger points is that they commonly cause pain.

Have you ever felt a particularly tight spot in your back or neck that just won’t go away? It’s always there, and you can feel the soreness emanating from it? This is a muscle knot/trigger point, and the chances are your pain won’t subside until it’s been dealt with. 

Trigger point therapy focuses on these sticky points. It is considered a deep tissue massage because a fair amount of pressure is required to get into muscle knots and break them up.

That’s the primary goal of this treatment; to free patients from pain caused by persistent knots and trigger points in their muscle tissues.

How Is Trigger Point Therapy Done?

Trigger point massage therapy can technically be performed by anyone.

There are even tools available – such as foam rollers and lacrosse balls – that allow you to attempt it at home.

However, the best results come when a qualfied therapist carries out the treatment. 

Your treatment will begin with the therapist asking a series of questions to figure out where your trigger points are, the pain they’re causing, and when they seem to flare up most of all.

Unlike more general deep tissue massages, this stye of massage therapy is dependent on your input.

After asking you some questions, your therapist will will start the massage.

Here, they will move their hands around the muscle and ask you to indicate when they’ve landed on the trigger point.

Typically, they may press down on parts of the muscle tissue and ask if it feels tender or not. The more tender it feels, the worse the trigger point is. 

When they’ve found your muscle knot, they begin to work on it. Different therapists may have different techniques.

The most common technique is to apply pressure to the trigger point. They do this using their hands, knuckles, elbows, or even a massage tool. 

The pressure is applied to help relax the muscles around the trigger point, which should make the knot ‘melt’ away.

If a knot is particularly tight and troublesome, then massage tools with vibrations are sometimes used. Some studies show that the effect of vibrations on trigger points can lead to a decrease in the amount of muscle pain felt.

In most cases, this won’t be necessary, but the therapist is also likely to move parts of your body around to affect the muscle knot.

As an example, if you experience neck pain, then they may ask you to move your head or raise your arm up and down as they massage the point and keep applying pressure. 

How Trigger Point Therapy Works

A trigger point massage involves applying pressure to the afflicted muscles and trying to get them to relax. But, how does all of this work?

Trigger points are tight knots of muscle tissue, which effectively means that the muscle is locked in a contracted – or shortened – position. 

A good way to visualise this is by looking at an elastic band.

Usually, the band can be pulled and stretched with ease. But, tie a knot in the band and attempt to pull it.

You’ll find far more restriction as the knot causes it to be stuck in a more shortened position. When you have a trigger point in a muscle, this same thing happens. 

Trigger point therapy works by trying to unlock the contraction mechanism of a muscle. In essence, we want to get the muscle working as it should, returning it to the natural position. 

When pressure is applied to a muscle knot, it starts to relax and loosen up. Sometimes your therapist will ask you to breathe deeply which sometimes helps you to relax and allows the muscles to release quicker

By moving a muscle through different ranges of motion, this also helps it release.

For example, if you have a trigger point in your quadriceps (top of your upper thigh), the therapist will often apply pressure then help you bend and extend your leg at the knee.

This also helps to encourage more blood flow to the area, which allows the trigger points to melt away.

How Does It Help?

Man receiving a firm sports massage

Relief From Chronic Muscle Pain

The obvious advantage is that it can free you from chronic muscle pain.

It’s particularly useful for anyone with myofascial pain syndrome as well. This is a condition that causes chronic pain in muscles that are repeatedly used and contracted over and over again. 

 A study from 2017 found that trigger point release massages did lead to a decrease in perceived pain from the participants.

After two 25-minute treatments a week – totalling 12 treatments in total – the results showed they experienced less pain than at the start, and less pain than participants in the control group.

Relief From Tension Headaches

Most of the time, tension headaches are actually caused by trigger points in the trapezius muscles and the neck.

By having a massage, you can release tension and sort out the cause of the problem. It leads to long-lasting results, which is much better than taking paracetamol

Improved Range Of Motion

There have been studies that show a negative link between trigger points and joint mobility. 

By removing or reducing the trigger point,  you allow the muscle to contract and relax how it should, which improves joint mobility. 

Better Flexibility

If your muscles are stuck in a shortened state, so you can’t extend and stretch them fully.

By removing the trigger point, you unlock the muscle and can stretch it out further than before. 

Trigger Point Therapy

Improved Posture

People with muscle knots in their chest/shoulders will often be subjected to poor posture.

The tight muscles pull your shoulders forward, rounding your thoracic spine. As a result, you end up with a hunchback posture, which causes more pain. 

By relieving your trigger points, you can relax the muscles that cause posture problems. Your body will move into its correct alignment, and you can work on further improving your posture with corrective exercises.

How To Get The Most From
Your Massage

  1. Ensure that once the trigger point has been released that you “retrain” it to stay in this relaxed state. Daily stretching will help ensure that the muscles remain in this state as long as possible. Consider Pilates or yoga as alternative stretching techniques.
  2. Relax and just allow your body to find its balance naturally
  3. Slow down your working pace – Stand up and stretch as much as you can. Ensure that your work station is set up to provide you with the most optimal working environment and that you are not straining your body in ways that you don’t need to.
  4. Drink plenty of water.  Hydration is the key. Our body needs hydration to function correctly and so do our muscles. Not only does it help in recovery but H2O will actually help assist in removing any toxins and hormones that may be trapped in the tight muscle, before they have a chance to enter the body’s blood stream.
  5. Keep your body as warm as possible – Especially in the winter months our body and muscles feel the cold. Heat packs are a great way to not only provide quick relief but can also help maximise any stretching that you may have done. Apply the heat pack to the trigger point and feel the tension melt away.
  6. Epsom salt bath – Treat your body to the healing properties of Epsom salts. Not only will they aid in relaxation they will also assist in drawing out unwanted toxins in the body. Run a warm bath and sit back and relax and let the salt do its job.
  7. Magnesium – Not only will magnesium help support the relaxation phase of the muscles, it also allows the body to create more insulin like substances which are the main contributor to the growth and strength of your muscles. Talk to your health care professional about tips and tricks to add extra magnesium to your diet.
  8. When was the last time that you really looked at where and how you sleep? – Many of us do not understand the importance of a good mattress and what a difference it can make to our muscle’s well being. If you have had the same mattress for over 10 years, chances are you need a new one and your old one could be doing more damage than good to your back, neck and muscles.

  9. With all things body related diet and overall nutrition is the key to ensuring our bodies and there engines can form at their peak. Clean whole foods, and minimal refined sugars or processed substances will only aid your body in its recovery process ensuring that you can get the most benefit from your treatment.

  10. Respect your muscles and your body. Making yourself feel good physically is one of the ultimate ways to respect yourself. Treat your body as you would the body of someone you love dearly. Healthy food, exercise, low stress, and of course regular deep tissue massages.

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Author Biography – Ali Saoirse –  BEc University Sydney, GradDipPsych Bond University, Diploma Remedial Massage, Certificate IV Massage, Level 7 Kahuna Massage, Qualifications in Pregnancy Massage, Hot Stone Massage, Aromatherapy, Reflexology from Gold Coast TAFE.

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