Trigger Point Therapy

Lengthening and strengthening for stronger muscles

A trigger point, defined by Janet Travell, M.D., is "a hyper-irritable spot usually within a taut band of skeletal muscle or its fascia that is painful on compression and can give rise to characteristic referred pain, tenderness and autonomic phenomena."

Travell was one of the key figures in the 20th century in the development of this kind of therapy. Trigger points reduce full range of motion by preventing full lengthening of the muscle. Trigger point therapy releases these spots by using repetitive muscle stripping, ischemic compression and cold distraction "spray and stretch" techniques. Any stretching therapy that lengthens and strengthens has similar benefits to the practices of Pilates and yoga.

Trigger points propagate themselves. Once one part of the muscle reaches a state of hyper-irritability, the body's effort to compensate for this change results in more symptoms cropping up in related musculoskeletal systems. For example, a trigger point in the trapezius (or upper back) may result in pain that radiates up the neck and down, through the shoulder, into the arm. In turn, as the body attempts to adjust to this pain, these secondary areas become vulnerable to the development of their own trigger points. As well, the activity that led to the development of the first trigger point will cause further exacerbation unless the behavior is identified and altered. Stopping this progression requires treatment.

Trigger point therapy's most basic treatment is focused compression. The trigger point is identified by probing with fingers or apparatus. The trigger point is a spot characterized by heightened discomfort in the patient and a noticeable hardness to the therapist. While the application of pressure on this spot causes the discomfort to become very clearly recognizable, it has the dual and counter-intuitive effect of feeling good at the same time.

The National Association of Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists is trying to create a uniform education standard for certification. To ensure that this treatment method could benefit you, it's best to first meet with a traditional medical doctor. Trigger point therapy can also be self-administered to good effect. Tools that aid application can be purchased, and there are a number of workbooks available on the subject. The basics of this therapy are fairly easy to master and, if they're performed conscientiously, effective.

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