Trigger points are a major cause of pain within our bodies. Many people grimly live with very real pain which has often been misdiagnosed as something else, or had it categorized as imaginary. The knot-like characteristics of trigger points have been written about for over 150 years, and their ability to displace pain has been known about since 1938.
Trigger points can develop in any of our muscles and if left untreated can last as long as a lifetime. Even after death they can be detected in the muscle until rigor mortis sets in. If sitting in a muscle in a ‘latent’ form, ie, not actively causing any pain, they can accumulate over years and be a major cause of stiffness and joint immobility as we age. These latent trigger points can easily be activated to cause pain by very little stress, the classic ‘straw which breaks the camel’s back’ scenario, when the smallest of movements has caused you to suddenly have your back seize up for example.
Latent trigger points are exquisitely painful when pressed on and so easily found if you have a massage treatment. This is why regular treatments really do make an enormous difference to someone’s ability to have a life pain free and with the best of possible mobility.
Neck pain, headaches or difficulties in turning your head are often just down to muscle tension in the neck. Precise and focused deep tissue massage can be extremely helpful with these problems, however it is also very important to look at what you think may have caused the problem in the first place.
Sleeping habits could be a major factor – do you sleep on your front? A prone sleeping position will be straining those muscles all night long. Your choice of pillows could also be a factor – are you allowing your spine to keep as straight as possible? Everyday habits such as the tilt of car seats, telephone and computer position all create habitual strains on the muscles. Are you always in a rush to get somewhere? As soon as we rush, our chin posture tends to alter, is thrust into forward head posture, in turn straining the muscles of our neck.
A combination of recognising possible contributing factors, along with some deep tissue massage treatments would go a long way to changing any problem neck pain.
Our skeletons are held up by the soft tissue in our bodies, in tension, so as the bones do not actually touch one another. This enables a wide range of free movement between the joints in the body.
This sculpture that I came across whilst attending an Open Day at Canterbury University recently shows this concept really well.
The poles in the sculpture do not touch (like the bones).They are held taught by the wires (like the soft tissue, ie fascia, tendons, ligaments, muscles). If someone was to tug on one part of the sculpture, the resulting movement of the poles would create an effect further along the sculpture.
This is also what happens within the body. Tight soft tissue at one end will have repercussions further along a line throughout the body, resulting in the bones being pulled out of alignment slightly which in turn can cause pain and restricted movement.
Regular deep tissue massage can prevent this from becoming a problem and enabling you to use your body to its optimum ability.
Muscle pain is caused by’ trigger points’ within the muscle. These trigger points can be treated by deep tissue massage techniques to eliminate them, but sometimes they just keep coming back!
Pain caused by one-time events can be obvious, and the resulting trigger points do not usually return. A one-time episode of overloading the muscle, an occasional heavy lifting, ambitious exercise when out of condition, or a sudden enthusiastic burst of different activity can all create mischievous trigger points.
However if muscles are put into a chronic overloading situation, such as in an everyday work situation, or a postural stance which strains the muscle repeatedly, then unless you are able to change the conditions which cause the problem, the trigger points and hence the pain, will keep returning.
A good massage therapist should also be able to advise you on changing any postural problems you may have or work-related changes which may be needed, to try and prevent returning trigger points becoming a problem.
Trigger points can develop in any muscle in the body and can last as long as life if left untreated. The pain created by trigger points is an enormous cause of disability and time off work. They can accumulate over a lifetime and appear to be the main cause of joint stiffness and loss of mobility in old age. The constant muscle tension imposed by trigger points over stresses muscle attachments and can damage the joints. But what are trigger points?
Trigger points are areas within muscles which have a localized spot of tenderness in a palpable taut band of muscle tissue. It feels like a hard ‘nodule’ and when pressed firmly will hurt and often refer pain to another site, often near to a joint, which in turn makes people modify their movements. By exerting pressure on these trigger points, the blood flow is rapidly increased to the area which helps to ‘release’ these taught bands and allow the muscle to function properly again.
Regular deep tissue massages can detect these trigger points and eliminate them, allowing you to have as best pain free mobility as possible, well into old age.
My old school friend Penny Sawell, who is a practising osteopath in Hove, has a great blog site which she also runs. She has posted an article on fascia recently, with reference to some of my paintings of the subject too.
The blog makes a really interesting read, with balanced arguments from different points of view.
A question sometimes asked is ‘Why do animals not seem to develop the same sort of muscular pains and injuries as humans do?’
A popular idea in answer to this is that we, as humans, were not originally designed to live much beyond 35-40 years old. After this age, many of us develop persistent muscular aches and pains. We now live well beyond our natural lifespan, due to great advances in hygiene and healthcare.
However our generally sedentary lifestyles and bad food choices put our bodies under unnatural strains, allowing the soft tissues to become sticky and dehydrated, locking tight across joints which previously could move freely, and creating trigger points within muscles. This is often according to our posture or repetitive actions we put our bodies into on a daily basis, developing patterns of strain which run through the body. In turn this can lead to debilitating pain conditions such as ‘frozen shoulders’, most common in people after the age of 40.
Regular good deep tissue massage will go a long way in helping these tight sticky soft tissues to remain more able to slide and glide and thus help to deter the onset of muscular pain conditions.
This is often given the label of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but often has very little to do with the Carpal Tunnel in the wrist itself. Unfortunately people are often sent for surgery on the Carpal Tunnel, only to have their symptoms of numbness or tingling return as it is more usually due to a nerve compression from the muscles.
The most common muscles which do this are the scalenes, in your neck. Tight scalenes pull up the first rib against the collarbone, squeezing the nerves and blood vessels that pass between them. It is this pressure is often the cause of numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers.
A deep tissue massage to enable these muscles to release their tight hold on the top rib, will allow it to drop and stop any compression.
An interesting experiment was done where the testosterone and cortisol levels were measured in people who were in different poses. The testosterone in your body gives a feeling of ‘confidence’, whereas cortisol gives the feelings of ‘stress’.
People who were put into ‘low power’ poses, ie hunched over or curled up, had an increase of cortisol and decrease in testosterone within 2 minutes of entering that pose. People who were put into ‘high power’ poses, ie shoulders out, wide leg stance, hands on hips or out to the side, had an increase of testosterone and decrease in cortisol within 2 minutes.
This really goes to show that your posture and body language can chemically affect your mood and how you feel. Now the cold weather hopefully has passed, it is a good time to uncurl our bodies and benefit from increased testosterone!
Trigger points can sometimes be very persistent and keep coming back, even after being successfully treated by a deep tissue massage, and the person’s original pain will kick in once again. If this is the case, then other perpetuating factors need to be looked at. Sometimes these factors are so important that just by removing them can allow the trigger point to deactivate on its own, thus removing the source of pain.
Some physical factors affecting trigger points can be postural stress, poor work habits, repetitive strain, congenital bone structure irregularities (such as shortened bones in arms, legs or feet), and a lack of regular exercise. Other factors affecting trigger points can be emotional stress with the resulting posture change, excess alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, and chronic infections.
So it is worth taking a look at how you regularly sit or stand, as this may be affecting ongoing trigger points. Do you cross your legs? Are your elbows unsupported for long periods of time? Do you keep your chin thrust forward? How are your feet placed on the ground? Does your car seat mean you have to sit down with your hips below your knee level?
Small adjustments to factors such as these can make a massive difference to eliminating myofascial pain problems.