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Trigger Point Therapy

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

My massage teacher recently introduced me to trigger point therapy for Myofascial Pain.

Dr. Janet Travell, MD (1901-1997), an American medical doctor and the personal rheumatologist of US president John F. Kennedy, was the first to propose the term myofascial trigger point " in 1942. In 1960 Dr. Travell teamed up with Dr. David G. Simons, MD (1922-2010) to further explore the realm of trigger points and myofascial pain syndrome. In 1983, Simons and Travell published their work entitled "Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction - The Trigger Point Manual".

It changed the understanding and treatment approach towards chronic pain. Since 1983, thousands of physiotherapists, doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists and other health professionals worldwide have applied trigger point therapy in their practice.

If, like me, you have ever had pain in your back that seems to stick around, even though you have done the rounds - visited a physio and a chiropractor, and the doctor, and diligently done your stretches – then you may benefit from self-administered Trigger Point Therapy. You are welcome to consult my book when you visit.

Very often many of our common aches and pains are actually caused by myofascial trigger points, or small contraction knots, in the muscles of the body. Pain clinic doctors skilled at detecting and treating trigger points have found they are the primary cause of pain roughly 75% of the time and they play at least a part in virtually every pain problem.

Trigger points are known to cause headaches, neck and jaw pain, low back pain, the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, and many kinds of joint pain mistakenly ascribed to arthritis, tendinitis, tendinosis, bursitis or ligament injury. Trigger points can cause problems as diverse as earaches, dizziness, nausea, false heart pain, tennis elbow and genital pain. They cause sinus pain and congestion. They may also play a part in chronic fatigue and lowered resistance to infection.

Trigger points can be surprisingly easy to fix; in fact, most people can do it themselves, if they have the right information. But a high percentage of doctors and other practitioners are pretty out the loop regarding trigger points despite them having been written about in medical journals for over seventy years.

Much of what is known about trigger points is documented in the two-volume medical text Myofascial pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual by Travell and Simons. However, the information is couched in difficult scientific terms which are challenging for most of us.

Clair and Amber Davis in the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook have laid out the basic trigger point science and practical application for treating yourself and loved ones at home.

A trigger point as a small contracture knot in a tight muscle that often feels denser or tighter than the surrounding muscle tissue, or a tight guitar-like string in the muscle harbouring the trigger point. The constant tension in the fibres of the trigger point restricts circulation of blood in its immediate area. The resulting accumulation of the by-products of metabolism, as well as deprivation of the oxygen and nutrients needed for metabolism, can perpetuate trigger points for months or years unless some intervention occurs. Its this self-sustaining vicious cycle that needs to be broken.

The difficulty in treating trigger points is that they typically send pain to some other site. Most pain treatment is based on the assumption that the cause of the pain will be found at the site of the pain. However, trigger points almost always send their pain elsewhere. This referred pain is what throws people off – they treat the site of the pain, while failing to treat the cause that could be some distance away. Most pain is a warning – a responsive response to muscle overuse or trauma. Pain tells you that something is wrong and needs attention.

Luckily, referred pain is known to occur in predictable patterns. Once you know where to look, trigger points are easily located by touch and deactivated by several methods. They offer a system of self-applied massage directed at trigger points that can bring significant relief of symptoms in minutes, and many problems can be resolved within three to ten days.

Trigger point massage works by accomplishing three things: it breaks into the chemical and neurological feedback loop that maintains the muscle contraction; it increases circulation that has been restricted by the contracted tissue; and it directly stretches the trigger point’s knotted muscle fibre.

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