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How do you get a trigger point to release?

trigger point to release
You may need to get a trigger point to release to cure your lower back pain.

If a muscle knot is going to cause you so much pain and aggravation, you definitely need to get rid of it. Unfortunately, like all problems in life, trigger points are much easier to acquire than dispose of.

But you can do it if you are persistent. And here is how you go about it.

What is a trigger point?

A trigger point is simply an area of knotted muscle tissue. It is not the entire muscle that is affected like with a muscle cramp but rather a small area of the muscle that has contracted into a tight knot. This starts ?a series of events that ultimately ends up with you feeling the pain (sometimes excruciating) from the muscle knot.

A trigger point may be latent in effect when first forming meaning that it is not causing you any discomfort so you don?t even know it is there. The constricted muscle cuts off its own blood supply thereby reducing the probability that the knot will ever heal itself. No blood coming in means no oxygen and other nutrients needed to feed the tissue are available and no blood flowing out means that waste products pile up at a locked door. The end result is unhealthy, sick muscle tissue. If the trigger point was latent to begin with, at some point you will experience the transition to an active muscle knot and associated pain.

Trigger points and referred pain

Trigger points are aptly named as the location of the pain origin is often not where the pain is felt. In other words, point A triggers pain that is felt at point B. You can see the difficulty this presents when you want to get a trigger point to release. What do you do? Now that you know what a trigger point is and that you likely have one (and perhaps more than just one), how do to locate it so you can do something about it?

How can you find the elusive source of your pain?

Start at the pain point and work out from there. Trigger points typically refer pain in a predictable, radiating pattern so you can work backwards from the pain to locate the source. Sometimes you will find a noticeable, tight muscle knot that when stimulated, sends the pain signal into the area where you noticed it initially. Other times, there is no obvious physical knot that can be felt with your fingers. Trigger points can be very small knots that are just not perceptible to your touch however they will respond by triggering the pain signal when massaged, rubbed or just pressed on.
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So basically you just search around for the origin point by starting at the pain location. Once you have found the trigger point source, the real work begins.

How to get a trigger point to release

There are two parallel paths to follow in order to get a trigger point to release. The first is active work on the trigger point location. Heat, massage, motion, movement, stretching, etc. to break up the knotted tissue and get blood flowing again to affected area. This is not a simple one and done activity unfortunately. Your trigger has likely taken a long time to form and it will take you a lot of consistent effort to get a full and sustained release.

The second and equally important path to investigate is the mitigating circumstances around your pain. Why do you have these trigger points in the first place?

Trigger points tend to form in one of two ways.

The first and most common is just an abundance of aggravating conditions over time gradually forming muscle knots and ultimately trigger points. Things like:

  1. poor workstation ergonomics

  2. low physical activity

  3. high stress job

  4. home stresses like finances or divorce or teenage drivers

  5. poor nutrition

  6. inadequate sleep

  7. excessive worry and agitation

Yes the sum total of your lifestyle choices and daily living conditions will ultimately manifest itself as pain in your body. The emotional and physical stresses of everyday life really do cause you pain.

The other way trigger points are formed and this is the way you almost certainly believe to be true is from an originating injury. But this is the least likely path no matter what you believe.

Sometimes a real injury occurs first. You get a minor muscle strain of even tear from an accident or physical activity that causes pain. If this happened to you, you should remember this initiating event like it was yesterday. You know exactly when this happened. If you ?just woke up one day in pain? your trigger points are almost certainly from the stress accumulation overload path.

Think about this because it is a key point for you to understand.
Did you “just wake up one day” and notice the pain? It really just came out of nowhere.

When real injury occurs, the surrounding tissue also become tight and contracted. This is from subconscious brain messaging telling you to not move the injured area a lot because 1) it will hurt and 2) you want it to heal fast. As a result, trigger points start to form around the injured area. Then, over time, ?the natural course of action is the initial injury healing while the trigger points become more acute. At some point in your recovery, the trigger point pain replaces the original injury pain but you cannot perceive the difference. As far as you know, you are still injured because there is still pain.

Seeing may be believing but believing makes it hurt worse

The biggest problem you now have is the undeniable belief there is something structurally broken in you. You are convinced you have a bad back or neck or shoulder or whatever the injured area is. And belief, more than anything, will ensure your pain continues. There is nothing like worry and ?knowing something is wrong? to trigger the old pain signals.

The trickle down from believing you are injured is acting like you are injured. You used to play tennis twice a week because you love it but now you can?t because ?you have a bad back.?

Maybe you were a former runner or hiker but now ?you have an injured knee? and you can’t do it anymore. You see the problem? You are becoming less active because you are convinced your injury (which is all in your head) won?t allow you to do it.

This is the beginning of a ?downward spiral.
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You are getting weaker, fatter and?becoming?unhappy as a result. Physical capability is declining while your emotional stress is rising. You are breeding new fertile ground for additional trigger points to form and take over your life. And all from the unfounded belief that something must be wrong because you feel pain.

OK, so what do you do? It?doesn’t?matter how you got here. Injury first and then trigger point formation or the gradual build up of trigger points over time. The result is the same. You have pain that limits your ability to live life fully and you are convinced there is something wrong inside your body.

Three steps to get a trigger point to release

  1. Education. Train your brain. You must change the fundamental belief you hold about the source of your problem. You are not injured and doomed to a life of pain. You have a trigger point or perhaps a collection of them but they are treatable. You must get this first step right. Belief drives behavior and pain is exacerbated by thinking there is a darn good reason for you to have this pain. Get your head straight first.
  2. Address the acute symptoms of your trigger points. Heat and mechanical agitation are your best options. Get a massage especially if you can find a masseuse who is trained in trigger point therapy or myofascial pain syndrome. You?ll have to become expert in self-massage because a lot of work is often required to get a trigger point to release for good. Vibrating massage tools, foam rollers, tennis balls and just about anything that will put pressure into your muscle can be used for acute pain relief. You cannot get too much massage. Do it everyday and several times per day as your schedule permits.

  3. Work on the extenuating circumstances. What things are part of your daily life that exacerbate the problem?Remember, trigger points are a sign of unhealthy tissue. At its core, getting a trigger point to release and not come back is about getting healthier. Muscle knots will form from both physical stresses and emotional strain. So what can you do to start to turn the tide on your trigger points?

    1. Start exercising again. You are not really hurt after all and back pain is often due to being weak.

    2. Eat better. Don?t start a diet. Just lay off the soda, sweets and highly refined wheat products and you?ll see a huge improvement in your health. This one nutritional change will drive a lot of good stuff.

    3. Sleep better. Maybe a new bed is in order or just improving sleep conditions like total darkness and quiet.

    4. Do something about your work ergonomics. If you are a desk jockey, take planned mini-breaks every 30 minutes or so. Get up from the computer and stretch it out a bit. This can work wonders.

    5. Emotional stress is much more difficult to address. It is personal for everyone. The best advice is to just recognize that prolonged emotional stress is just as debilitating on your physical health as anything else. The best thing is to recognize it and do something, anything really. If you are under financial strain and see your world crumbling without a plan of action, you are worrying all the time about your eventual collapse. However, it you have a plan to extricate yourself, even if it will take years, there is satisfaction knowing you are taking?some?action. Stress is reduced enormously.

    In summary, be confident you can address the source of your pain and get the trigger point to release. Knowledge is confidence.

    Second, work on the muscle knot with reckless abandon. A little or a lot everyday. This may take a long time so plan for an endurance event. You may have had some of your trigger points for years.

    Address your lifestyle choices. And yes these are all choices you freely make. If you hate your job, it is a source of a lot of stress so get a new job. Don?t hold grudges. Just let it go. Focus on what it is truly important to you like family, friends and your health. Stop worrying about things of which you have no control.

    Do you think you suffer from trigger point pain? Add your comment below.

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    Old Spartan

About the author 

Mark Fickler

Mark aka The Old Spartan and Over-50 Fitness Savior is a 64 year old coffee guzzling father of five wandering the outdoors around Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mark helps Active Boomers get lean, healthy and strong so they live rewarding, fun lives using his signature 2 Rule Easy Fat Loss training program.

  • As stated in number 2…..foam roller and lacrosse balls are great for releasing trigger points and loosening tension. I use a foam roller all the time to keep my knees in shape. I roll my outer thighs to release the tightness.

    • Can you easily find the trigger points or is it a shotgun approach? Just roll everywhere and hope you did some good?

  • You will surely know! And you will feel the tension release as you hold your position. You should hold unti you feel it release…. Sometimes takes minutes. One of those hurts so good things!

  • Mark I emailed you recently replying to your numbness email you sent out. I apoligize if I sounded condescending. I forgot how much you knew about muscle issues. I wanted to point out a couple things that come to mind when reading this. Fantastic article by the way, truly awesome information.

    For people with tension everywhere, there is some sort of sensory threshold they can withstand. If you work on too many spots, you can aggravate yourself in many ways and feel like your going backwards. Many people who have tried to do too much therapy at once can attest to feeling “beaten” up the next day. Authors I know of have spoken about this. It is important to understand that we are all a little different and some people cant simply go wild on a lacrosse ball, or start using a foam roller willy nilly and try to “melt” everything all at once. But also, the negative feelings the next day still might be progress. Bad spots can feel worse temporarily, and it is up to our experimentation to determine how much we can handle. This is sort of the same for muscle recovery. Obviously some peopl can train more often

    One important thing Ive learned about chronic tension and pain, is that it is very important to feel progress. So that you stay motivated and dont get discouraged. So thats why doing too much can be counter productive, because you might feel worse. Just focus on your worst areas if you feel youre not making progress at all.

    One more thing..The last book I read about trigger points, the author speaks of something called bioenergetic breathing. Now, there are many methods of breathing that are suppose to be beneficial, buteyko etc .. This method of breathing is, how do you say, meh, a little out there, but stay with me, it is super interesting.

    You can read about it at painscience’s website just google that and bioenergetic breathing. But anyway, this might be some miraculous way of dealing with stress. Anyone heard of the Iceman, Wim Hoff? Who has broke many world records with his breathing techniques. His methods (which are obviously a part of older practices and not his soley) are very similar. I held my breath for three minutes easy (NEVER DO THIS IN WATER) after a took deep breathes for a few minutes. You dont have to hold your breath, it is just amazing to see,your potential can,change with breathing. Your signal to breath is much less with low amounts of C02, and this temporarily changes your blood alkilinity to slightly higher as well. This can have many uncomfortable effects, but if you read about it, you will understand what I mean how it can help.

    There is a certain point that they say if you breath enough (this is difficult, i feel i need guidance myself) you will reach a point in which bad emotions come to the surface. You can start crying out of nowhere, get mad even. It is real trippy sounding. But even the Iceman has commented on this. Some people believe this excess oxygen and temporary blood alkilinity change can flush out bad feelings in you, as well as energize you. Food for thought. I havent gotten past my lips tingling yet, it is so against your instincts to breath more than your system tells you. It also feels weird because you can become a little more tense, and I notice I feel almost a restriction of breathing in my neck, or abdomen from trigger points.

    Sorry I ramble. Hope I could help or inspire. Thanks for reading. Dont ever stop learning and trying.

  • KARAN SINGH says:

    YES SIR and i m suffring this problem since 4 months. May be i runned very fast thatswy

  • Good blog on trigger points! People just need to get regular massages! It works for me weekly! Work out hard and a massage is a must! I haven’t had no.tight knots for years! I credit this to regular massage sessions ?

  • Thank you so much for this post! I?m a hypochondriac and have just moved back home after a year abroad and have been so mentally and emotionally stressed. I have tension and numbness in an odd place, but have found that it?s a normal trigger area. I got a massage and it helped for a couple days, but the feelings came back. It?s been happening for a month now, but I?m so scared that if i went to a doctor or chiropractor they?d tell me bad news like I have a tumor or something… this put me at ease. I wake up and the first thing I think is ?is the pain still there?? it?s so unhealthy! It has consumed my brain for over a month now and I think it has caused even more haha. I have another massage in a week and then I want to maybe schedule an appointment with a chiropractor- just to get some relief- mentally and physically! Thank you again.

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