Understanding Trigger Points (Part I)

Massage therapy has been demonstrated to help relieve chronic pain, stress, and anxiety, all in a non-invasive way. For this, it deserves praise as a profession. But there are, of course, limits to what massage can do. Often pain and discomfort is caused by something (such as an internal injury, certain chemical imbalances, etc.) that needs a more invasive approach, and in these cases massage therapy can be used as a supplementary treatment. However, there is also a lot of pain that goes unexplained in the medical world, and this might be due by an element that is difficult to define: trigger points.

Many therapists claim to be able to find and deal with trigger points, however a recent study has shown that medical professionals and massage therapists are having a difficult time classifying just what a trigger point is. There is an academic inability so far to come to a consensus as to how to define what trigger points are both medically and symptomatically. Thus, massage therapy’s role is somewhat weaker in finding and treating trigger points than it is in its proven abilities of dealing with stress, boosting the immune system, and providing a host of other therapeutic benefits.

However, that does not mean you should write off the pain caused by trigger points and the relief that comes from trigger point therapy. Trigger points were first found and postulated about by physicians in the 40’s and 50’s and then expounded on in the 80’s and 90’s by Janet Travell (personal physician to President Kennedy) and David Simons. Since then trigger points have been measured electronically and shown visibly using MRI. Travell and others believe trigger points are dysfunctional areas of muscle, “a hyperirritable spot, usually within a taut band of skeletal muscle or in the muscle’s fascia.”

I’ll write more in the coming weeks about what these areas of dysfunctional areas of muscle mean for the pain that our clients experience, and how massage therapy can help.

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