It happens to all of us. Sooner or later we all develop aches and pains around our body and start to lose flexibility. People generally attribute it to wear and tear and simply getting older and leave it at that. The most common remedy people try to alleviate the pain and tightness is an aggressive stretching campaign or taking up yoga. Additionally, strength training becomes a lower priority because it is assumed that lifting weights makes muscles tighter.
But this approach leaves much to be desired. Stretching helps a little bit and it does not last for long, and it is a big mistake to stop strength training because it is so important to build and maintain muscle mass as we age. In my opinion, strength training is the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth. Often times I have witnessed older people jogging very slowly and hunched over. In a strong case of irony, many times they are holding weight that they curl as they shuffle along (not a good strategy. It places undue stress on the tendons around the elbow and the weight is too light to really do anything anyway).
For these issues and more, trigger point therapy works wonders. I started doing trigger point work on my body about seven years ago when it became painful for my right shoulder whenever I would lift weights. It got so bad that I would be in pain whenever I would do light work around the house. Coupled with that I had a very limited pain free range of motion. The problem started much sooner. I remember having limited pain free range of motion for several years before that, and I believe that it happened from my playing baseball for several years when I was younger. I just learned how to live with it and assumed that I would have to deal with it the rest of my life. However, it just got so bad over time that I had to do something about it. So I hired a massage therapist who did deep tissue massage. She concentrated on my shoulder most of the time, really digging into my subscapularis and teres major (the rotator cuff muscles). It was very painful work, but I slowly started to feel better. My pain free range of motion kept improving. Eventually my right shoulder was fully functional.
Next up was my left shoulder. This was a surprise because I never had any problems with it in the past, or so I thought. It happened when I played a baseball game. I was invited to play by my friend, for his team was short handed and they needed someone to fill in. I haven’t played baseball since high school so I was very excited for the opportunity to relive my junior high school glory days ( I was a good baseball player from elementary to junior high, but I did not do so well in high school). I did have fun, but the next day my left shoulder was painful, which was a complete surprise. It did not get better. I could not do a dumbbell press for the life of me. It just hurt too much. I substituted cable presses in place of the dumbbell presses and I adjusted the angle so I could still do a pretty heavy set without pain. The limited range of motion in “real life” was a real burden. Once again, I simply had to do something about it. This time I tried to use my body back buddy to dig into the knots and pain areas that I was experiencing, and it did help a little bit, but it was not enough. The points on the body back buddy were too blunt to get the deep knots, so I bought a hand held trigger point tool to do the job. It took some time…a lot of time, but it worked. I regained full pain free range of motion after about one year of consistent work. The first three months of digging it did not seem to do anything, but eventually it started to break up and slowly get better over time.
This is my long winded version of saying trigger point therapy works. But how does it work?
Let’ start by defining what trigger points are. Trigger points are taught sensitive spots that run along a muscle fiber and the fascia that surrounds the muscle which restricts blood flow (1, 2, 3, 4 ). They are noticeable to the touch, and they do feel like a small knot. Even though trigger points are more noticeable in the muscles, both tendons and ligaments can have trigger points as well. They are very tender to the touch and often times they can refer pain to to other parts of the body when pressure is applied. There are two kinds of trigger points: active and passive. Active trigger points are very sensitive to the touch and they are mostly responsible for pain and limited range of motion of the affected area. Passive trigger points can only be felt when there is pressure applied. Passive trigger points can become active trigger points at some point, so it is just as important to break up when you find them. Trigger points can be cause by a number of things. Bad posture, a sedentary life, repetitive movements, micro trauma to a muscle, and simply ageing all can cause trigger points. In other words, just living life.
Trigger point therapy works by applying pressure to the sensitive knot for a few seconds or longer. This cuts off the circulation and it is theorized that the pressure releases nitric oxide in the muscle, which tells your body to open up the micro capillaries allowing more blood flow to the area to break up the trigger point (5). Trigger point therapy is usually performed by a massage therapist as part of the overall massage experience. This is good and it usually is enough to bring relief in it’s own right, but personally I found that I needed more. I needed a lot of direct trigger point work. I do it on myself at least three or four times a week to keep myself mobile and pain free, using both my body back buddy and my hand held trigger point tool.
I am not the only one I know that needed more focus on trigger point work. I have a client that I have been working with for years who is very tight around his hamstrings, glutes, iliotibial band and calf muscles. At first we tried guided stretching protocols, and they did bring temporary relief but it never lasted. So I suggested he try massage therapy. He worked with three different massage therapists and none of them seemed to be able to do a good enough job. Out of frustration, he asked me to try something…anything to give him relief. I figured since I had good success on myself with trigger point therapy, why not try it on him.
I worked with him for a little over a month and his flexibility improved so much that his chiropractor remarked at the difference he noticed. Moreover, my client is moving up in weights like we have not seen in a while, and what is most remarkable to me is that he is finally able to sleep through the night without pain. He used to take melatonin in an effort to get a good night’s sleep, but he stopped taking it once the pain was gone and he has a much more restful night’s sleep now. Wow. That is great news!
Encouraged by his success, I started doing trigger point work on three other clients as well. My wife says that she has never felt as good after a massage than she did after the massage/trigger point work I did on her last week. She can’t wait for the next session. The other client that I worked on had some real pain in both shoulders and the doctor told her it was an autoimmune response, thus he prescribed prednisone, an anti inflammatory medication. Yes, she would feel less pain but otherwise she felt weak, tired, and struggled with weight. She has been trying for quite some time to get off the meds, and this time she took me up on my offer to see if trigger point work can help. And indeed it did. We found out that she had some trigger points on her right shoulder and bicep that was causing pain and loss of strength. She noticed a difference right away, and she, too, was finally able to sleep through the night for the first time in a while. She needs more work to make it stick, but she is on her way to better health now without drugs.
I am now offering trigger point work as a service along with personal training. If you feel tightness and pain in your muscles and tendons and want some relief, look me up. I believe I can help.
In any event, I highly suggest some form of trigger point work via a bio foam roller, body back buddy, maybe a tennis ball, or a helping hand to like a massage therapist to hit the hard to reach spots.
Let’s live well.