Bliss for $80+ per hour
Who doesn’t want an hour of this? But magic massage hands ain’t cheap…and you can get a lot of relief from muscle pain massaging your own trigger points.
Learn how to massage your own trigger points (muscle knots)
Muscle knots or “trigger points” are small patches of super-contracted muscle fibres that cause aching and stiffness. They can affect performance of the whole muscle, spread pain to adjacent areas, and even cause other trigger points. They seem to be a major (and often unsuspected) factor in many common pain problems like low back pain and neck pain. Most minor trigger points are probably self-treatable.
You can often get more relief from self-massage than you can get from a massage therapist. Professional help can be nice — and sometimes essential — but it can also be extremely cost-effective to learn to save yourself from trigger points. It is a safe, cheap, and reasonable approach to self-help for many common pain problems.
And it’s not perfect: there is controversy and scientific uncertainty about trigger points. It’s undeniable that mammals suffer from sensitive spots in our soft tissues … but their nature remains unclear, and the popular idea that they are a kind of mini-spasm could be wrong.
This article just introduces the basic principles of treating trigger points with self-massage. If you haven’t even heard of trigger points before, you might want to look at the introduction to my huge myofascial pain tutorial first.
Why are minor trigger points so easy to deal with?
A lot of trigger point pain can be completely relieved with a surprisingly small amount of simple self-massage with your own thumbs or cheap tools like a tennis ball. Although trigger points can get amazingly nasty, most are fairly easy to find and get rid of with a just little rubbing.
Dr. Janet Travell wrote that “almost any intervention” can relieve a trigger point, and self-massage is usually the simplest, cheapest, safest, and most effective method. Which sounds to good to be true! How can such a trivial treatment work?
The pain may be more of a phantom than something wrong with the tissue. It may be relatively easy to change with massage because there’s not much to “fix” — just a sensation to change. Or maybe the rubbing actually affects the source of the pain, whatever it is.
A little self-massage is often the most effective treatment for minor muscle knots. But how can such a trivial treatment work?
On the other hand, if we accept the conventional wisdom, then massage may work well because it’s fairly easy to “flush” the waste metabolites out of a minor trigger point — and that interrupts a vicious cycle, which prevents the trigger point from coming back, at least for a while.
Also, isolated trigger points are probably much easier to manage — neurologically simpler. If the problem is limited to one body part, there’s a better chance of dealing with it.
Basic self-massage instructions
For an easy case, just a few moments of gentle rubbing can be enough. For moderate cases, several doses of rubbing over a couple days will usually do the trick. The toughest self-treatable cases might need an investment of about a half dozen miniature treatments per day for a week, each about 20–30 kneading strokes. That will take care of most trigger points. But it can definitely fail — the location is often surprisingly tricky to figure out — and there’s plenty more to learn.
Here are a bunch more basic tips …
Rub with what? Rub the trigger point with your fingertips, thumbs, fist, elbow … whatever feels easiest and most comfortable to you. Simple tools are really handy for spots that are harder to reach. And I don’t mean specialized massaging tools — just a tennis ball, or other handy household objects. Tennis ball massage is surprisingly good stuff!
A tool like Pressure Positive’s Backnobber can be great. But for quick and easy self-massage, there’s usually something around the house that works pretty well — like a tennis ball!
Rub in what way? For simplicity, either simply press on the trigger point directly and hold for a while (10–100 seconds), or apply small kneading strokes, either circular or back and forth, and don’t worry about the direction of the muscle fibres. Really, anything goes. But, if you happen to know the direction of the muscle fibres — sometimes it’s obvious — then stroke parallel to the fibres as though you are trying to elongate them, because it might be more effective.
Rub how hard? This matters much more. Because massage is a “conversation with your nervous system, ” you want it to have the right tone. The intensity of the treatment should be Goldilocks just-right: strong enough to satisfy, but easy to live with. On a scale of 10 — where 1 is painless and 10 is intolerable — please aim for the 4–7 range, and err on the side of gentle at first.