WTF Is Trigger Point Therapy and How Can It Help Your Bod Feel Better?

Photo: Getty Images/LaylaBird
Even if you haven't heard of "trigger points," you probably still know what they is. Basically a fancy way of saying a muscle knot or kink, trigger point therapy refers to easing pain in an area on your body where you're dealing with muscle spasms. Fortunately, there's a simple way to alleviate that discomfort.

Before you learn how to treat your trigger points, it's important to know why they come about in the first place. And there's one prime cause: repetitive activity. For adults who aren't playing sports after school on a regular basis anymore, that mostly means being hunched over your laptop nearly every day, which causes your muscles to tense up. That's where trigger point therapy comes in, which can safely get rid of those distracting aches and pains. Common trigger points are found in the neck and lower back. They feel like a small nodule that's sensitive when you apply even gentle pressure.

"There are many different techniques for trigger point therapy, including rubbing, massaging, and pressing, which help alleviate the symptoms," says Roy Nissim, DC, a chiropractor at Active Therapy Center in Santa Monica, California. "Receiving trigger point therapy can help by alleviating pain, tension, and stress. This is because the tissue is able to glide more efficiently, and more blood flow is distributed to that tissue. The therapy can make you feel mentally and physically recharged."

While trigger point therapy sounds incredible, there's one thing you should know before getting it. It's not at all the relaxing massage you might imagine. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, it requires some pain to get rid of the pain, which usually equates to about a 7 out of 10 on the pain scale. That's because you're applying direct pressure on the trigger points—the areas that are already hurting you—in order to release the spasms.

"It will be tender and painful at first, but as the nodule gets smaller the area and the pain reduce," says Dr. Nissim. "This can be replicated almost anywhere in the body, from the low back, shoulder, hips, and so on."

Once your tissue changes and the spasm releases, you'll feel like a new person both inside and out.

Here's how to do trigger point therapy at home

While you can always go to a massage therapist or chiropractor to help with your trigger points, there are also a couple easy ways to get some relief right at home—one of them being grabbing your foam roller. According to orthopedic surgeon Steven Struhl, MD, it acts as a deep tissue massage and is able to release trigger points in your muscles and connective tissue that are causing you pain. It's especially useful if you're dealing with knots in your hips and back. For spots you can't reach easily (like your lower trapezius), use a lacrosse ball up against the wall. Locate the trigger point with the ball between your back and the wall, and apply continuous pressure in long strokes for a few minutes to release it.

You don't need any fancy tools for trigger point therapy, though. Giving yourself a trigger point massage requires just your fingers. All you have to do is apply pressure to the affected area to help your muscles relax. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can do this in two steps: find a tight spot, then press firmly into that point for three to five minutes up to six times a day. Since there will be some discomfort, you can start with an amount of pressure that's comfortable to you. And as always, consult a professional if you're feeling unsure. A chiropractor or trained massage therapist could have you feeling better than ever in no time.

To loosen up the rest of your body, try these yoga poses that feel like a massage:

FYI: You can prevent low back pain by working on this key muscle. Then find out the best way to avoid post-workout neck pain.

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