“Argh. My muscles are full of knots!”
EVERY client I see has them, knotted muscles. Trigger points are a “natural” part of muscle tissue. Just as almost everyone gets some spots, sooner or later almost everyone gets muscle knots — and you have pain with no other explanation. When you say that you have “muscle knots,” you are talking about myofascial trigger points.
There are no actual knots involved, of course — it’s just a metaphor. Although their true nature is uncertain, the main theory is that a trigger point is a small patch of tightly contracted muscle, an isolated spasm affecting just a small patch of muscle tissue. That small patch of knotted muscle cuts off its own blood supply, which irritates it even more.
The inside of our body is covered with soft tissue called fascia. For the meat eaters among you (and apologies to the vegetarians) you may have seen this tissue when cutting up chicken. Its a thin, sticky wrapping. This tissue acts like smooth cling film and covers everything including organs, muscles, nerves and blood vessels. The particular fascia that covers your muscles is call myofascia.
When our myofascia is stressed from overuse or trauma it can tear and glue itself together to make small patches of tightly contracted muscle. When trigger points are present, on the microscopic level, part of the muscle fibre is contracted into a small thickened area, and the rest of the fibre is stretched thin. Several of these muscle fibre contractions in the same area, beaming ‘gunned up’ are probably what we feel as a “knot” in the muscle.
None of this is conducive to smooth muscle function. These patches build up and become “trigger points” which can prevent the muscles from working well and will need some care and attention to get smoothed out.
When pressed, trigger points feel like “knots” or tight bands in the muscle, and are usually very tender. If you self massage an area that feels tense, you can often feel them yourself. Healthy muscles usually do not contain knots or tight bands, are not tender to pressure, and when relaxed, they feel soft and pliable to the touch, not hard and dense, even if you work-out.
Multiple movements in our lives can cause this build up, it’s not just those who are super active. Consider the micro movement you make using your mouse at your computer, day in day out. This builds a very common trigger point I see in the shoulder that builds up and causes aches and pains, headaches and more.
Trigger points lead to an increase in muscle stiffness and tenderness and a decrease in range-of-motion. The discomfort from trigger points can radiate from the adhesion and cause referral pain leading to a wide range of issues – back pain, headaches, stiffness and more.
Some people believe that massage needs to hurt to be effective and you could argue that massaging your trigger points it’s going to hurt. Trigger point massage therapy is specifically designed to alleviate the source of the pain through cycles of isolated pressure and release. I believe that if too much pressure is used, your body starts to tense as it anticipates the next move, expecting pain. In this type of massage for trigger point therapy, I will ask you to actively participate through deep breathing as well as identifying the exact location and intensity of the discomfort. Together we can build up the intensity of the session – do your ‘gunked-up’ patches require soft general persuasion to release or will they prefer a spot of one-to-one attention? I like to treat your trigger points with a little bit of care and attention, warming them up to soften them up before going in to get them. Which ever way you prefer, I will find your ‘gunked-up’ points that are the myofascia monsters!
Can I ‘fix’ them in one session?
As you can imagine, trigger points take time to build and we can go along way to easing them in a massage session but you will need to take care to reduce their build up. Receiving massage with trigger point therapy on a regular basis can help naturally manage pain and stress from chronic injuries. For you, the client, becoming more aware of how our muscles function and applying regular self care can go along way to reducing those aches and pains.
I will work through some helpful hints and tips with you at the end of your massage session using an array of ideas that you can build into your day to day life.