Trigger Point Pain and What To Do About It

We are all different, and yet we are all the same. Some of you view fitness as a hobby, some as a chore, and some as life itself! What links us all at certain times though is muscle pain. Textbooks will define muscle pain as myofascial pain syndrome, “myo” meaning muscle and “fascia” meaning band. You can call it whatever you want, but I am here to try and help you get rid of it.

Discomfort somewhere along your muscle can develop for a handful of reasons; physical injury, poor posture, poor lifting form, inflammation, trauma and illnesses. Whatever the reason may be, the tissue has been damaged and surrounding fascia (strong connective tissue surrounding the muscle) becomes tight and inflexible, compromising mobility and performance. Even worse! This tightness can create somewhat of a domino effect,restricting joint range of motion, forcing you to move differently and possibly resulting in joint pain!

Now that we understand the process, lets dig a little deeper. To the touch, these sensitive areas almost feel like knots! Don’t worry your muscle hasn’t detached itself, made a few wrong turns and then reattached. What has happened though is that a small section of muscle(s) have created an isolated contraction. This small area of angry muscle tissue can begin to restrict its own blood flow, irritating the area even more and the surrounding fascia. These little stiff areas of muscle have been dubbed TRIGGER POINTS…dun dun dun!

The best way to think of a muscle trigger point is in relation to a gun firing. When you pull the trigger of a gun, it creates a loud BANG! That bang can be thought of as when we push or touch the sensitive area and it hurts right where we pressed. However, the gun also shoots a bullet, effecting whatever it was shot at. The bullet connecting with its target is the secondary pain a trigger point causes or formally known as “referred pain”. Basically, pressing on a trigger point causes pain within the area you pressed on and also discomfort to another site within the body, usually far away.

So now how do we fix this massive mess of inflamed, angry, tight tissue!!? It is actually not as hard as you might think. Many gyms and athletic stores carry the tools you need to free yourself from these nagging pains. The most common and easy to use equipment is; a foam roller and/or a lacrosse ball. The roller and lacrosse ball help alleviate pain in a few ways:

– Massages the area to help break down and relax the contracted muscle
– Increases circulation to the area, bringing more oxygen and nutrients (major healing properties)
– Directly stretches the knotted up muscle fibers

Before embarking on a solo journey to try and cure yourself, I would get together with a trainer who understands trigger point therapy or seek out a licensed trigger point therapist to guide and get you started! If you’re one of those figure it out on my own types then its pretty easy to feel your way through this process.

The foam roller is simple to use. Let’s say that a trigger point has developed on your thigh. Lie on the floor, stomach down and place the foam roller underneath your thigh right on the tender spot. Lift yourself up on your elbows and slowly begin to pull forward and push backwards, gently massaging the area. You can rotate by flexing and extending your leg but remember to breathe from your stomach throughout the process and stay relaxed. Perform around 15 – 25 reps.

The lacrosse ball is not much different, personally I believe that it is a little more intense and tends to stretch the muscle more. This time the trigger point is on your left glute (butt,bottom,booty). We’re going to sit down on the floor and shift most of our weight to the right side and carefully line the ball up with the aggravated area. Once you’re all set, slowly begin to shift your weight back to the left side, pressing into the ball, exhale and relax the entire time (trust me!). Now that the ball is really digging into the tight area, you can rock back and forth a little, massaging the area. Stay in this spot for about 30 seconds then relax, repeat for 3 – 5 reps of 30 seconds each.

Next time you find yourself struggling through tight muscle pain give these methods a try. I’d love to hear what you think!

– Brig Van Etten CSC-