Health / Expert Advice

What are Trigger Points and How Can I Fix Them Myself?

An expert physiotherapists teaches us effective home therapy techniques for relieving aching muscle knots.

Muscle knots, or trigger points, are an annoyance most active people can expect to feel somewhat regularly. They are tender spots on the body that can cause aches and soreness. Fortunately, there are self-massage techniques that can help you alleviate the pain when it creeps up. But, the next time that you develop a trigger point, first try these at-home self-massage techniques to relieve the pain yourself. Jonathan Trinh, director and principal physiotherapist at FXNL Rehab, explains trigger points as “a taut band, otherwise known as a “knot”, in a muscle or its fascia (the “glad wrap” around your muscle tissue).” They can be caused when the muscle becomes chronically stressed or overloaded. A knot can occur when too much pressure is constantly put on the muscle (so make sure that you’re not overtraining!).

There are two types of trigger points that exist: active and latent. “Active trigger points cause a deep steady pain into its referral zones,” says Trinh. “[The] pain may be described as radiating or aching.” You don’t have to be touching or placing pressure on it to feel it either. On the other hand, you can only feel latent trigger points when they’re disturbed. “[They] do not provoke pain and are only sensitive when touched,” explains Trinh.

How to use trigger points to alleviate soreness

Trigger points are pretty common. It is active trigger points that physiotherapists used to alleviate pain. However, Trinh points out that sometimes people may mistake active trigger points for conditions such as sciatica or bulging discs. So, if you’re not sure, it’s best to check with your physiotherapist.

Unfortunately, leaving trigger points to fix themselves doesn’t work. You need to actively try to engage the trigger point. Otherwise, Trinh warns, “your body will compensate for these tight muscles and then you will develop tightness/weakness elsewhere.”

On the bright side, there are some great methods that you can implement to help alleviate the pain. “Palpation of these trigger points is one of the most effective ways to determine if a trigger point is the cause of your pain,” explains Trinh. “Once their location is determined, manual therapists can use a multitude of techniques to release these trigger points that include the following: direct ischaemic pressure (i.e sustained pressure), dry needling, IASTM (Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilisation), and stretching techniques.”

Feeling sore? Aaptiv has a wide variety of stretching classes that will have you feeling pain-free, fast.

How to Release Trigger Points Yourself

Use a ball.

While Trinh does recommend seeing a physiotherapist, there are some techniques you can implement yourself to ease muscle pain. He suggests using a lacrosse ball or spiky massage ball to apply direct pressure to the knot. Alternatively, you can even use your fingers or elbows. While foam rollers are a common sight in a gym, they are more beneficial for wider areas, as opposed to smaller trigger points.

You may feel some pain when implementing these home therapy techniques. However, it should still be bearable. If it’s too painful and you’re wincing in response, then you need to ease up on the pressure a bit. You should feel a good pain.

Some common trigger point areas in which you can use the lacrosse or spiky massage ball to relieve pain from are your back, shoulders, and neck. To do so, stand with the ball between yourself and the wall or floor, depending on which area you are focusing on.The wall or floor should act as a leverage to lean against. Place the ball on the tender spot and use your body to roll it around the affected area.

Try a self-massage.

You can also give a self-massage with your hands, which is great for accessible areas like the neck. The pinch-and-pull method is one way that you can do it—grab the sore muscle and roll it between your thumb and index finger. This is best for small muscles that can be pulled away from the skin.

Another self-massage technique is to simply move your fingers over the tender spot, applying pressure. Then return to the starting point and repeat the movement. You should feel a release in the muscle.

These are all really effective home therapy methods to relieve tension from trigger points. However, if you’re still unsure of what to do, then it’s best to see your chosen physiotherapist. He or she can perform these techniques for you or suggest another method that is deemed appropriate.

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