What is Trigger Point Therapy?

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Trigger Point Massage

What are Trigger Points?

Trigger points are localised areas of tender, tight muscle (like knots!) that can cause muscle tension or referral pain. Pain can either be in the area of the trigger point or, more commonly, refer elsewhere.

The classic example is with a tension headache – trigger points in the neck and shoulders causing pain in the head.

There are two types of trigger points; active and latent. Active points cause pain and other symptoms depending on the referral pattern.

Latent points usually cause less pain but can cause loss of mobility. Active points can become latent and vice versa.

For more information on how trigger points can cause knee pain see our blog post here

What are the symptoms of a trigger point?

Depending on whether it is active or latent, symptoms can range from severe pain & sensitivity, to stiffness and reduced mobility.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Pain (local or along a muscle)
  • Numbness or altered feeling in a muscle
  • Reduced mobility & increased stiffness
  • Muscle weakness

Also depending on the active trigger point people sometimes report improvement with other symptoms like dizziness, earache or nausea.

What causes Trigger Points?

Trigger points are present in all muscle but the question is why do they become overactive and begin to cause problems?

  • Over exertion – Inappropriate loading of the muscle, or fatiguing the muscle can result in an active trigger point. This is common with athletes
  • Repetitive Strain – Continued repetitive strain can use fatigue in muscles. Performing tasks over and over again when you are not conditioned for it (like a heavy weekend pruning & digging in the garden!) can stress muscles and create over active trigger points.
  • Mechanical Imbalance – Muscles work together to produce your movements. When one of the muscles becomes weaker or fatigues, it places more strain on the surrounding muscles – which can lead to the development of a trigger point.
  • Posture – This fits under the repetitive strain category. If your posture means that your body has fewer options of how to move (because you have stiffness) this mean that you are more likely to overuse certain muscle groups. Over time this can lead to trigger point over activity and referral pain,  like headaches,
  • Trauma – Occasionally, trauma to a muscles following a fall or accident can cause short term abnormalities in the muscle tissue leading to trigger point activity/

Will Trigger Point pain get better on it’s own?

In most cases yes. It’s a self limiting condition which means a lot of people will get better in a few weeks or months (you’ll see we say this a lot about the body – it’s a very clever self-healing system!). It depends on the cause of your symptoms and other factors.

If you haven’t noticed an improvement in your symptoms , that’s exactly the time to book a Sports Massage appt to start making some progress.

What factors are going to affect my recovery?

We now know that look at the mechanics of an injury is only half the story. Sometimes pain can be a lot worse or less depending on many other factors. This is to do with the nervous system – making decisions on how importantly or loudly to talk to you about what’s going on. This is pain science (and we are pain science geeks here at HeadStart!)

Other factors that can affect your recovery are:

  • Quality of sleep – once you’re in pain this is THE biggest predictor of your improvement
  • Depression – often people with depression experience more pain. This does not mean we have to cure you of depression to improve your pain! But it does mean we need to consider this if you are getting slower recovery. And we’ve worked with plenty of people with this before.
  • Stress & Anxiety – This is general stress & anxiety, good or bad, it could be the daily commute, worrying about money, looking for a new job or even organising your wedding. All of these factors can affect your experience of the pain and your recovery.
  • Survival value – How important is it for you to be pain free? This can go both ways, it can either make things worse because you’re desperate to get better and that’s making you more stress and anxious. OR it could be that because you ‘have’ to make it through that 4hr car journey to see your family it drops the pain to allow you to do that.
  • Catastrophizing – This is an important one that we work on in clinic. It’s very important to help challenge the thoughts that you’re never going to be able to…run again, sit without pain, that your disc has exploded inside your body. Why? Because this makes you stressed, and stress increases pain. I think it’s pretty reasonable if you have a numb foot you’d be fairly worried. So this is where we have to find out the cause of your symptoms and work towards a treatment plan that works for you.
  • Fear Avoidance – Lying in bed avoiding moving, or worrying that you’re going to damage yourself more if you return to the gym is the last thing we want you to be doing. Think of it like a phobia, to help you improve you your back pain we need to get you challenging yourself a bit – to discover that things ARE ok and you can do things. Of course we modify any movements that are causing pain – but it’s very important you don’t avoid doing things because you’re afraid.
  • Beliefs – beliefs like, I’m getting old, or my dad had a bad backs so it’s genetic, or my disc has exploded so I have to be extremely careful about what I do, ALL make your pain worse or slow your recovery. And that’s what we need to address.

Massage Therapy for Trigger Point Pain

Will Sports Massage help my Trigger Point pain?

Yes!

Why?

Because trigger points are neuromuscular problem – meaning they respond to they way you move and stimulate the muscle. We can find ways to stretch muscles that are new and novel, which creates opportunity for the muscle to change, and reduce your symptoms.

We’ll also address all the factors above, so if it does cause you symptoms they will be more manageable and less worrying for you.

By combining then hands on work with involving you in the treatment, we’re calming the nervous system, and it makes things more tolerable allowing you to move more normally.

This creates a window of opportunity for you after the appt for you to get moving more and a chance for your brain & body to learn that the risk is lower, hopefully causing a longer lasting effect of reduced muscle tension and improved movement. Exercising, using the muscles, during this time is REALLY important!

We find that trigger point treatment is very effective and in most cases we see significant improvements in 3 or less appts. 

Reducing pain in order to increase your movement is the most important thing when you have back pain and Sports Massage is a great way to help.

What if I have something else wrong?

In most cases trigger points DO NOT occur in isolation. So there is likely to be other areas of tension or things we want to address.

If you’re worried about anything serious, then of course make sure that you see a GP first and get them to check you over.

Our team are also very experienced, if there is anything they aren’t sure about they’ll make sure to refer you to a GP. It’s very rare this happens and in most cases, although the pain can be intense, trigger points respond very quickly to Sports Massage treatment.

What can I do to help my Trigger Point Pain?

  1. If you haven’t already then make yourself an appt with a GP. It’s important to get checked by a medical professional if you have had pain for a while. Once given the all clear or you have a diagnosis then we can begin to help.
  2. Book a Sports Massage with one of our team! We’ll be able to help assess, identify what the causes of the back pain are and create a treatment to get you back in action ASAP!
  3. Continue to keep moving. There is a big difference between pain and discomfort here. It is VERY important that you move as much as possible and continue to live life as normally as possible as long as your pain levels are below 4/10. Which to me means it’s going to be uncomfortable but not painful
  4. Get advice on activities that make symptoms worse. Anything that you notice causes an increase in pain, get some advice. We need to determine if that’s purely because you’ve done too much and the body is fatigued OR if you are causing more irritation. If you’re keen for a clear template then use our traffic light system for training when you’re in pain. 
  5. Where possible avoid movements that cause intense pain – it’s unlikely to be causing damage, but you are irritating the the muscles and potentially slowing your progress.
  6. Experiment with different stretches and mobility techniques – often using a mobility ball or foam roller can be really helpful here. Here’s some of our tutorials on how to use a mobility ball or foam roller. And these stretches are great for helping with back pain
  7. Relax – this can be as simple as lying down in a comfortable position a few times a day, taking deep breaths or going for a short walk. We really like to recommend body based relaxation exercises like PMR or the free HeadSpace app

Summary

Trigger point pain varies from intense, local pain to just a generalised dull ache. It can be extremely painful and distressing, but it is possible to get very quick improvements with focused treatment. It is a common condition that we see in clinic and can get very significant improvements and pain relief using Sports Massage to help trigger point pain.

If you have any questions either send us a message using the FB messenger link in the bottom right corner of this page or email us here.

To book an appt with one of the team click here

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Sports Massage Therapist

Headstart Sports Injury and Performance Clinic is owned and run by experienced sports massage therapist Vicki Marsh. We are based in Cambridge, UK, and specialise in resolving complex injuries that are causing acute or chronic pain,affecting quality of life and sporting performance. Vicki has over 12 years experience delivering sports massage to rowers, runners, international athletes and Olympic medallists.

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