Updated: Aug 18, 2020
You probably know that familiar feeling of having a “knot” in your muscle, but what exactly is it?? Those knots are actually called Trigger Points, and they are quite common. Knowing how to get relief from trigger points can be super helpful because, if you have had one, you know they can be extremely uncomfortable!
First things first, what exactly is a trigger point?
Between all of our muscles and organs, we have a thin layer of tissue called fascia. For reference, you know that thin, clear layer on the outside of a raw chicken breast? Yup, that’s basically what fascia is. We have it everywhere, and it helps our muscles to slide and glide on one another when we move. A Trigger Point is a sensitive and irritable spot that develops in the layers of fascia. The result- the fascia becomes limited and can’t glide like it should, leaving you to feel pain with certain movements or pressure. They can sometimes result in “referred pain,” which is when the pain moves or radiates to another area. The most common example is trigger points in the neck causing headaches.
Why do we get them?
There are a few reasons you might develop a trigger point. Muscle overactivity, underactivity, increased stress and muscle tension, just to name a few. The biggest reason that I see trigger points in my patients is improper movement patterns and postures. For instance, a really common place to get trigger points is in the upper back and neck. If you have a desk job, you probably know what I am talking about!! When we sit slumped forward staring at our computers and phones all day, some postural muscles are working overtime while others are not being used at all. These hyper-irratible “knots” start to form from poor posture and lack of activity throughout the day.
How to reduce pain from trigger points:
As always, movement is medicine! But what happens when that trigger point is causing you difficulty moving? It may need a little hands-on attention first. Check out this video, where I explain an easy technique using a tennis ball for some trigger point relief.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Using some hands-on techniques to relieve trigger points is great, but what prevents them from coming back? You guessed it- healthy movement!
If you keep moving in the ways that caused the trigger point to develop in the first place, it will keep coming right back. You need to introduce some stretching and corrected movement patterns to help restore the normal gliding between those layers of fascia so it stops causing you discomfort.
Let’s go back to the example of sitting at your computer all day. If you use the tennis ball, but then go right back to shoulders being slumped forward and neck jutting out, the postural muscles are still not working efficiently. Some of the smaller neck muscles have to work overtime to hold your head upright, which they are not necessarily meant to do. This doesn’t allow that trigger point to ever really relax and the pain comes right back.
In addition to the awesome relief you get from the tennis ball, you need to also start working on strengthening and using the bigger mid-back muscles (the ones that are actually meant to maintain you in a good posture). Now the other muscles don’t have to work so hard and the trigger point can subside.
So while the tennis ball technique is a great go-to, just remember it is only one piece of the puzzle. Don’t forget to correct the movement that caused the trigger point in the first place and you will have much more success at long-term relief!!
Still have questions??
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E. Vázquez Delgado , J. Cascos Romero , C. Gay Escoda. Myofascial pain syndrome associated with trigger points: A literature review. Med Oral Patol Oral Cir Bucal. 2009 Oct 1;14 (10):e494-8.