We have all heard this story in one form or another, or if we have experienced this phenomenon we know that this condition can literally take you out of commission for a week or more. What really happened and what can we do about it? Enter the world of myofascial trigger points and how they can be treated.
Myofascial trigger points are the discovery of two brilliant MD’s named Dr. Janet Travell and Dr. David Simmons. Their seminal discoveries in chronic and acute pain took decades of research. Currently, it is the most comprehensive collection of data to treat and map out trigger points and their pain referral patterns.
But first, what is a trigger point and why does it cause pain? A trigger point by definition is a “hyper irritable area in a muscle that causes local and referred pain in a patient.” Great – now what does that mean? Predisposing factors that lead to myofascial trigger point formation include, muscles that are overworked, suffer from repetitive use, mechanical stress or imbalance, exhaustion, poor posture, non-restorative sleep, and vitamin deficiencies.
Trigger points are often characterized by a nagging or severe pain that just won’t go away using over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants or strengthening programs. Unfortunately, muscle tissue is an orphan organ. No medical specialty claims it, and little to no funding is used to study or research the causes of muscular pain. Medical students and physical therapists rarely receive adequate training on how to recognize or treat myofascial pain. Fortunately, advanced massage or medical massage training does treat myofascial pain.
Myofascial trigger points tend to be “ischemic” or have lack of blood flow and are tender to touch. They soon become inflamed and start sending out pain signals and cause tight hyper contracted muscles. Rarely can muscles with trigger points get relief by stretching and certainly not by strength training. Trigger points can only be treated in three ways: by injection, dry needling or physical compression combined with compressive pulses. Compression can obviously be done by yourself in some cases. That’s the good news, if you can reach them. Oddly enough doctors Travell and Simmons mapped out the most common trigger points in the body and their referral patterns and that’s where a trained myofascial therapist is worth their weight in gold.
Trigger points can be either active or latent. Active trigger points send out constant pain signals causing tension headaches, migraines, muscle soreness and debilitating back pain. Latent trigger points sit quietly causing no pain until you do a simple task like turning to get the toast, and that’s when it fires and all heck breaks loose. Often resulting in involuntary muscle spasms, ER visits and the infamous muscle relaxants.
Also, don’t bother calling your local massage therapist when the muscle spasms are out of control. They can’t help you. The best way to treat muscle spasms is hot baths followed by twenty minutes of icing with an ice pack. Once the spasms recede then you can and should call a trained myofascial massage therapist. Your doctor can even write you a prescription for massage, which more often than not, depending on your plan will be paid by your health insurance. Unfortunately Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for massage therapy. Certainly patients should call and request that medical massage or myofascial massage should be included in their plan.
Clients receiving trigger point therapy hail it as a miracle and pain that causes sleepless nights simply vanishes. I can literally look at a client and how they move or walk and I know exactly what trigger points they are suffering from. Moreover, trigger points in the neck and spine can make your muscles so tight that the client is literally causing premature wear and tear on disks and joints.
So stop the needless suffering and find yourself a trained myofascial therapist who can and will get rid of that nagging, debilitating pain you suffer from on a daily basis.
Kreig Peterson is available for consult at 505.410.6161. For more information, visit www.losalamosmassage.com.
Editor’s note: Kreig Peterson owns In Touch Medical and Therapeutic Massage in The Mary Deal Building in Los Alamos. He graduated with honors at (UTMI) Universal Therapeutic Massage Institute in Albuquerque in 2011 and UTMI’S medical massage program in 2012. Kreig is nationally certified by NCBTMB and working on his board certification with this organization.