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On Trigger Points and Their Use in Massage Therapy | Body Balance Monthly LB

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On Trigger Points and Their Use in Massage Therapy

There are a few terms you may hear while receiving quality massage therapy care, and one of these is the term “trigger point.” Used both in general massage and in specific massage techniques, including one specifically known as trigger point therapy, trigger points are an important part of pain reduction for many patients — and understanding how they work can be valuable as you move through this process.

What are trigger points, where might they be located on a given patient’s body, and how can this theme be used when determining massage needs and treatments? Here are some basic facts to consider. 

Trigger Points

Within any massage setting, trigger points can be defined as points that focus hyperirritability in tissue; when compressed or otherwise touched, it will often lead to pain, tenderness and other sensitivity.

Put a bit more simply, trigger points refer to any localized knots or spasm areas within muscle tissue. While you might think this is something that only people who had a very physically active lifestyle would be dealing with, the truth is that anyone can have these issues. In fact, it may surprise some readers to realize that trigger points are a common feature in those who do not generally engage in strenuous types of activity.

How Trigger Points Form

Trigger points can form in a few ways, but the most common method is this: Overloads of strain or weight on certain muscles lead to a release of what’s known as acetylcholine, which in turn leads to increased calcium into the sarcomeres — this makes the sarcomeres contract, which increases tension in the muscles. This can lead to stiffness, tightness and pain in the area; other symptoms may include restricted movement, tenderness when pressed or touched, changes in skin temperature (including redness or heaviness) and more.

A doctor of osteopathy will tell you that any given muscle has an optimum length-tension ratio; this means that it can handle a certain amount of activity before potential hyperirritability sets in.

Massage for Trigger Points

In many settings and different massage techniques, trigger points serve as a focal point for treatment after massage sessions. While deep tissue work is sometimes used in equal measure, trigger points can also be addressed through a variety of other techniques including effleurage, petrissage and tapotement. In the latter case, direct blows to the affected muscles may be used — either with a tool or with an individual’s hands — which can be a more direct way of stimulating the affected muscles and allowing them to release.

A doctor of osteopathy might recommend stretching as a method for reducing tension on the affected muscles. In some cases, this will provide relief without further medical intervention; however, it can also be important to use trigger point massage therapy in conjunction with this approach.

Trigger Point Therapy

For many people, the specific use of a massage technique known as trigger point therapy is highly beneficial. This treatment involves a professional massage therapist locating the trigger point(s) through a combination of patient reporting and other techniques, then applying focused pressure to the affected area. This treatment will include kneading, stretching and other positioning work; this is followed by a rest period, then another round of massage where the trigger points are re-addressed before the cycle starts again.

In addition, various compression or other techniques may be used to help break up the affected areas so that they do not become painful or hyperirritable again.

A doctor of osteopathy might also recommend hot packs for this purpose, but he may also advise rest and anti-inflammatory therapies in at least some cases. 

Consider these basics for any massage you’re considering, and especially if you’re in need of trigger point therapy.