As a therapist, trigger points usually feel like small knots or very tight bands of muscle. To clients, trigger points are tender, often feeling like a bruise when pressed. When I locate a trigger point, the response of the client is usually, “That’s the spot!” One client calls them “hot spots”. While trigger points are tender, pressure within your individual pain tolerance usually feels good (in a hurts so good way).
Trigger points are triggered by chronic muscle tension, overuse of a muscle, or chronic overstretching. Culprits include distorted posture, poor ergonomics, repetitive motions (including sports), nutritional deficiencies, falls and injuries, and medical and metabolic problems. Psychological factors such as chronic tension, anxiety, and playing through the pain can all perpetuate trigger points.
During a massage session, trigger points are treated with sustained pressure (compression) and/or small motions (friction), which help stimulate greater circulation and nutrient exchange. Thus, it helps break the cycle of pain, tightness, and more pain to help relax your muscles. The intention of massage is not to force the muscle to relax (what a contradiction!); rather the goal is to use massage to increase nutrient supply to the muscle. Movement and careful stretching can also help relieve trigger points.
Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog on treating trigger points at home!
¹Travell, J., and D. Simons. 1983. Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Vol. 1. Baltimore: Williams and Watkins.