Troublesome Trigger Points

Most everyone has experienced the uncomfortable sensations of a trigger point.  It’s that dull ache or sore spot in your muscles.  You think – if only I could stretch it out – and then go to town with stretching – but it doesn’t really help. 

Then you try taking ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory drug – but it doesn’t decrease the discomfort by much.  Taking a hot shower or bath feels good and decreases the nagging pain – but doesn’t last as long as you like. 

You may have some pesky trigger points! Currently the more official way to describe them is as myofascial trigger points or myofascial pain syndrome if you have a bunch of trigger points influencing your body. 

One more thing – trigger point discomfort sneaks up on you.  You don’t yell ‘ouch’ and think – I have a new trigger point!  They often appear after muscle strains have healed but the area still feels stiff and sore.  You may or may not feel a lump or knot in the muscle.  The pain seems to come out of nowhere!  

They can be quite challenging to get rid of – but hopefully some of the following suggestions will be useful.  You’ll know by how your body responds – and of course – if you have continued pain or can’t seem to make any headway from your own efforts – please seek medical guidance. 

Here are a few suggestions for treating trigger points

Don’t chase the pain!  

It’s really tempting to focus right where it hurts.  Trigger points often refer pain into other areas and if you just work where it hurts, you might not be working where the problem is. 

Massage

There are many gifted massage therapists out there with varying abilities to work with myofascial pain syndromes.  One of the cool things I always loved about going to get a massage was becoming more aware of where I had muscle tension.  You may want to explore having a true myofascial session where the therapist works the fascial lines of the body.  

Even a whole body massage will wake up your sensory systems and you become more aware of hidden tension patterns.  Thomas Hanna coined a phrase called SMA (Sensory Motor Amnesia) and basically it means that your sensory connection to that area has decreased.

It wasn’t unusual that after working with a client who had a chronic condition to have them come back the next week and say something like “my knee feels better, but now my hip hurts”.  Good, I replied – let’s see if we can peel a few more layers off the onion!  Feedback is feedback – and if we can non-judgmentally work with our body it is amazing what information we can gleam over time.  

Be aware of your sleeping positions

If you are stiffest first thing in the morning – analyze your sleeping position.  Is your spine able to rest in neutral or are you curled up like a pretzel with one leg in passé while side bending towards it:). Mattresses that are too soft or too hard can also be a culprit.  There is no one ‘right’ mattress for everyone.  Depends on whether you are a side sleeper or back sleeper along with your pattern of hip flexor tightness, etc.  

Traveling was always interesting to me as I got to try out lots of different mattresses and always looked at what the brand and type was when I had a super duper night of sleep.  Pillows are important to me as well as I am a side sleeper and need my top arm and bent top leg on a pillow.  I have created pillows by folding up bath towels in hotels if I didn’t have enough to have on either side of me so I can easily flip from side to side.  Perhaps not the most romantic way to sleep – but my spine, shoulders and neck are so much happier.  

Pinkie balls and foam rollers

Both of these tools along with a wide variety of other balls such as lacrosse balls, tennis balls, etc. can be very useful for targeting trigger points.  The challenge is to go firmly and sometimes slowly enough that you can feel the tissue easing up.  I like to find a point of soreness and then hold… breathing and trying to release tension in the spot and also all around it.  

I’m sitting on the sofa right now and just finished a break with my backnobber, a S-shaped tool that I’ve had for decades.  I found a pesky spot in my right gluteal area… worked the area around it as well for a minute and then came back to ‘the spot’.  Then I spent probably 2-3 minutes just holding pressure on the spot until I felt it release.  Much better!  

Release or relief doesn’t always happen as quickly as it just did for me.  It might take days or even a few weeks to feel like you have made progress.  What I will tell you is that after releasing that spot stretching my turnout muscles immediately feels much deeper and easier.  

Heat

A hot bath or sauna can feel SO good!  I’ve known a few people who  like to stretch in  the bath and even use a lacrosse or other rubber balls to work the outside of the hips and back of the the pelvis while in the tub.  I’ve used the backnobber on my upper back for a few minutes while sitting in an infrared sauna and then just relaxed and came out feeling noodle-like.  Best of both worlds… release work and heat!  

Stretching

Stretching typically isn’t at the top of the list for trigger point relief although I like stretching after working with the pinkie ball or foam rolling.  The combination is a good one for me – but may not be for everyone.  

So there are some tips to try.  I’m sure there are more techniques and certainly other tools that are out there that can address trigger point discomfort.  Please share in the comments below if you have other suggestions!  

I’ve posted below a cool YouTube clip that has an explanation of what is going on in the muscle when you get a trigger point.  

And finally… I’ve started working on a 2 hour zoom/webinar on stretching. Stay tuned for more details!

To your success, 

Deborah 

2 replies
  1. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    Hey Deborah! Loving this article 🙂 Do you have any trigger point books or resources you could recommend for a dance teacher interested in learning a little bit more about these?

    Reply
    • deborah
      deborah says:

      Hi Shannon,
      Painscience.com is a great site for information that is continually updated. I think he has some blog posts and a whole ebook on trigger points. There are lots of trigger point manuals out there – and all are good but none take the place of exploring yourself via a pinkie ball or another tool. There are charts that you can check out (I don’t have a particular favorite one) to get you headed in the right direction. I did find this site that has some good short clips on it.

      Reply

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