Trigger Point Massage techniques
Training hard comes with a price. That price is usually some sort of nagging pain or injury that we typically just assume will be with us for the rest of our lives.
“Oh yea, it is just my bad shoulder. It always aches after I bench.”
“You know how that knee is. There is usually a dull pain in there all the time.”
Oftentimes, these injuries can be alleviated by some soft tissue work and stretching. There are a variety of different types of soft tissue work:
Active Release Techniques (ART)
Myofascial Release (MFR)
Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT)
And the list goes on and on. I believe that all types of soft tissue work have their place and what may be more important than seeking out a specific type of soft tissue work is just getting SOMETHING done by a skilled therapist.
A term that gets thrown around by massage therapists, physical therapists, and chiropractors and has recently been making its way into the strength and conditioning world is “trigger point” and trigger point therapy. Since people seem to be talking about trigger points more and more, I decided to give you a run down of exactly what trigger points are, why we should care about them, and what we can do about them.
What is a Trigger Point?
While some may tell you that trigger points are tender areas in the muscle, this is actually not entirely true! One key characteristic of trigger points is that they are tender to touch; however, every tender area is not a trigger point.
If an area of a muscle is just tender, but does not have the other characteristics of trigger points, then the area is just a “tender point.” These tender points are areas of congestion, where tissue may be ischemic (lacking blood flow), fibrotic, or there may be a lot of scar tissue matted down in the particular area of stress.
Trigger points are areas of taught, hyper-contracted bands/nodules within a muscle. They are tender to touch and have a predicted pain referral pattern. These hyper-contracted nodules within the muscle are palpable and will often feel like little peas or semi-cooked spaghetti. A visual example would be this picture of some trigger points inside the Sterocleidomastoid:
As you can see, there are a few small contracted nodules within the fibers that are at normal resting length.
The trigger points can be either active or latent.
A latent trigger point means that it only sends its pain referral pattern when you touch it. For example, if you take a tennis ball and place it between your scapula and your spine, you may push into a trigger point in the rhomboids, which will give you this radiating or dull ache all over the upper back area. If you didn’t push into that area with the trigger point, you would not know it was there. This is a latent trigger point. It only refers when you press into it.
An active trigger point is one which is currently referring its myofascial pain response. A good example of this is if you ever had a headache, and you pinched your upper traps, and in doing so were able to produce your symptoms (i.e., the headache or that ache through the top of your head and behind your eyes), congratulations, you found an active trigger point!
Trigger points usually can be found in clusters. So, if you deactivate one (I’ll tell you how in a second), then you have to search out and try and deactivate the others within that muscle. This may take some time, and may be very intense, so you might want to do it over a few sessions.