There was a time not too long ago when Western medicine put literally zero stock into the benefits of body work. It was considered a nice thing, likely not harmful, but certainly not medicine. Times have changed a little bit and today doctors, their patients, and even the insurance companies that cover them both see body therapy with growing positivism. While some skeptics remain, the fact is that as the clock ticks into 2020, there is more acceptance and embracing of these techniques. TSLMS is among the groups that see their benefits.
What Are Trigger Points?
The human body is really complex and fascinating. A lot of it is deeply understood by science, but there are still things that we do not fully understand. Our knowledge grows, however, by leaps and bounds. Sometimes this knowledge confirms what traditional, or non-Western, medicine has practiced. Sometimes it replaces it. And sometimes it enhances it. In the case of trigger points, we now understand that traditional understanding of the human body is pretty close to scientifically proven today.
Trigger points are also known as muscle knots. As defined by PainScience.com, they “are sensitive spots in soft tissue, and too many of them are ‘myofascial pain syndrome.’ They are usually described as micro-cramps, but the science is half-baked and their nature is controversial. Regardless, these sore spots are as common as pimples, often alarmingly fierce, and they seem to grow like weeds around injuries. They may be a major factor in back and neck pain, as a cause, a complication, or a bit of both.” The Mayo Clinic defines Myofascial pain syndrome in the following terms:
Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic pain disorder. In this condition, pressure on sensitive points in your muscles (trigger points) causes pain in the muscle and sometimes in seemingly unrelated parts of your body. This is called referred pain. This syndrome typically occurs after a muscle has been contracted repetitively. This can be caused by repetitive motions used in jobs or hobbies or by stress-related muscle tension.
While nearly everyone has experienced muscle tension pain, the discomfort associated with myofascial pain syndrome persists or worsens. Treatment options include physical therapy and trigger point injections. Pain medications and relaxation techniques can also help. Signs and symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome may include:
- Deep, aching pain in a muscle
- Pain that persists or worsens
- A tender knot in a muscle
- Difficulty sleeping due to pain
Sciatica, which is common during pregnancy, is caused by trigger points. It, and other trigger point pain may be effectively treated with massage therapy, or acupuncture, which target the muscle groups and nerves that are involved with the pain.
Acupuncture As A Treatment for Trigger Points
In an acupuncture treatment, generally speaking, needles are inserted into the skin in order to reduce pain or induce anesthesia. It has been shown to have some effect on those suffering from nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, as well as treating post-surgical pain. At this time the FDA regulates acupuncture needles in the same way that it regulates all other medical devices. (Source). These needles are long enough that if inserted wrong can do damage to organs, and so if anyone is thinking of getting acupuncture it is important that they go to a board certified acupuncturist.
The National Certification Commission For Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is the leading provider of education and board certification in the field. They provide diplomas to practitioners who pass their standards. Those practitioners are recognized as being able to do acupuncture correctly and safely. They define:
Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body, by insertion of very fine, sterile, stainless steel needles to elicit a predictable physiological response. This stimulus may also be administered to the points using mild electrical stimulation (with or without needles), pressure techniques with the hands (acupressure) or the application of heat by various methods.
Acupuncturists assess a patient’s syndrome or pattern of disharmony by using a set of diagnostic skills that involve four areas; questioning, palpation, visual inspection, and olfactory-auditory data collection. An acupuncturist determines the necessary treatment principle and strategy to prompt the patient back to functional harmony by discriminating the exact pattern of the body’s physiological response to pathogenic factors.
The acupuncturist’s skill at determining the appropriate points to treat is based upon his/her ability to accurately distinguish the presenting pattern, knowledge of correct points to address that pattern and knowledge of the proper type of stimulus for each point. The possession of this knowledge and skills is the key distinction between a professional certified acupuncturist and other health care providers who employ acupuncture only as a modality (stimulating points for their general effect without adjusting their choice of points to the specific patient’s need).
Acupuncture is not for everyone, however. Some people are weary of needles. For them, relief may come in the form of trigger point massage therapy.
Trigger Point Massage Therapy
Information on massage therapy can be found in sources that range from massage-therapy chains like Massage Envy, to the Cleveland Clinic. And while the information found is fairly close to the same, we feel that it is better to look to the medical provider rather than the retail outlet. In that vein, here is how the Cleveland Clinic describes the use of trigger point massage in a way that can be self-provided.
Muscle knots are those kinks in your back and the tight, ropy strands in your neck. Also known as trigger points, they are areas where your muscles have tensed up and refused to let go. “A trigger point is a muscle spasm — a signal from the brain saying, I’m not sure what to do, so I’m going to freak out and be tight,” says Dr. Adams. Trigger points form as a result of repetitive activity. That might be something like swinging a tennis racket over and over, or – for many of us – hunching over our desks and pounding the keyboard day in and day out. “The body can endure a lot of stress, but we weren’t designed to do the same activity over and over, every day,” he says. “Those tight spots are cries for help.”
Find the tight spots (odds are you won’t have to look too hard). Use your fingers (or tools like foam rollers and massage balls) to press firmly into the trigger points. Repeat for three to five minutes, ideally as often as five or six times per day. “It needs to be part of the daily routine,” Dr. Adams says. How hard should you push? It varies. Some people can handle intense pressure; others are a bit more … delicate (no shame). Go ahead and dig in — it’s unlikely you’ll push hard enough to do any damage, Dr. Adams says. Still, it might not feel great in the moment. “Discomfort is part of the process,” he adds. But intense pain is not. If you feel a sharp pinch or tingling, you might have an injury that goes beyond muscle tension. In that case, quit with the thumbs already and get yourself to a doctor.
The alternative is to find a good massage therapist that you can trust and use that service to get the knots out.