Business woman at desk with neck pain

What are trigger points and why are they so painful?

Trigger points are tender nodules in muscles that develop from overuse, stress, injury and other causes. A classic sign of a trigger point is referral of pain to a distant point.

Just as pulling a gun’s trigger affects a remote target, an active trigger point will refer pain in a specific pattern according to the musculature involved.

For example, according to The Concise Book of Trigger Points, by Simeon Neal-Asher, a trigger point in the upper trapezius muscle commonly refers, or triggers, pain in the ipsilateral temporal area; trapezius trigger points are a common cause of tension headaches.

woman with purple nail polish on cell phoneTrigger Points and Our Wired World

In our stress-filled society, made worse with the frequent use of mobile devices and computers, our musculoskeletal systems are constantly under attack. It’s hard to find an adult who does not have trigger points in his or her trapezius, for example.

Many people, especially teens and Millennials, could benefit from a lesson in biomechanics of the cervical spine while utilizing electronic devices such as computers, mobile phones, video game consoles and tablets.

Take a look around the next time you are in a mall, at all the people walking with their heads down, looking at their cellphones. In a couple of years these same people may be on your table seeking treatment for the neck pain they think just started, but we know the condition didn’t start this morning.

Years of abuse from poor posture, overuse, and staying in one position for extended periods—for example, spending eight hours a day sitting at an office desk—have resulted in what you are witnessing with your hands: active trigger points.

Tackling Trigger Point Pain

So, how do you get rid of trigger points, both as a massage practitioner and as a massage client?

Trigger Point Therapy is a soft tissue technique utilized by manual therapists to relieve trigger point pain and restore normal muscle tone.

To relieve trigger point pain, release them either manually or with a tool. Gently apply pressure and hold. Different angles can be effective in releasing the tension. Heat or ice can be applied to the area as well.

The trigger point is usually held for six seconds, and the hold can be repeated at longer intervals. The therapist will feel the trigger point soften or evaporate beneath his thumb or the tool. Upon re-palpating the area, the client will feel a reduction in sensitivity.

massage therapist addressing trigger point painFind the Right Tool

The work you do on your clients’ trigger point pain could lead to developing trigger points of your own if you don’t practice good body mechanics. Avoid this by always using proper stances and stretching, and taking breaks when necessary.

Another option is the use of an effective self-massage tool. The market is full of them; it can be overwhelming to choose the one that works best for you.

Familiarizing yourself with a tool’s features and benefits, and researching several different tools, is a good place to begin. If you attend massage conferences in which massage product vendors have booths, you might be able to try out tools before you purchase them.

In addition to using a tool on yourself, you might also look into purchasing quantity of tools and reselling them in your practice as a retail item.

Here are some signs that you’ve found the right tool for you:

  • Ergonomic grip
  • Comfortable to use
  • A solid, easy-to-clean surface, such as stainless steel
  • Durable
  • Can be applied at different angles
  • Can be heated or cooled
  • Effectively helps ease pain and tension and release trigger points.

If you find a tool that possesses all these qualities, you’ve found a winner.

Whether you use a handheld tool or rely on your hands, learning to address trigger points will help you stand out from other therapists—and more importantly, doing so will result in pain relief for your clients.

Blase Toto headshotAbout the Author

Blase J. Toto, D.C., D.A.C.B.S.P., is the founder of TOTOTEC and inventor of the patent-pending T-BALL massage tool. He is a diplomat of the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians, and was a member of the USA Olympic Medical Team in Vancouver, Canada, in 2010. He practices in East Brunswick, New Jersey.

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