Written by Karen Heap, Paradise Massage Studio

One of my favorite modalities to use in my practice is Trigger Point Therapy. I believe Trigger Point Therapy is one of the best ways to eliminate muscle pain in a short amount of time. It can sometimes be an uncomfortable process to relieve the pain; but it works, and it works well.

You are probably familiar with “knots.” Perhaps you’ve had a knot in your neck that has been hurting and you massage it yourself, maybe absentmindedly while you are sitting at your desk. Or maybe you’ve had sciatic pain and have asked someone to stick their elbow in your glute to help relieve the pain. But what exactly is a knot, and what does a massage therapist do to relieve the pain?

A trigger point is a knot or spasm in the muscle that may cause localized pain or refer pain to another part of the body. For example, you may have a trigger point in your neck that is causing you regular headaches. Or you may have a trigger point between your shoulder blades, in your rhomboid muscles, that is always bothering you.

Trigger points are formed my overusing a muscle to the point that part of the muscle spontaneously contracts and stays contracted, shortening the muscle and causing pain. You may have joint pain in your knee because of a tight muscle in your quadriceps. You may have pain in your elbow because of a tight bicep muscle. This type of therapy helps us think outside the box when we are working on your body. The pain doesn’t always originate where we think it does.

Trigger points are typically caused by three types of muscle overuse: acute, sustained, and repetitive. Perhaps you started a New Year’s resolution to do 100 pushups a day and you haven’t done pushups in a while. This may cause a trigger point to form in your triceps or your rhomboid muscles. Maybe you constantly have your head turned in one direction to see your computer screen. This could cause some trigger points in your neck, giving you headaches. Or maybe you are throwing a football 500 times a day, giving you some elbow pain. The point is, no matter what your activities are in life, you may at some time deal with trigger points.

To relieve a trigger point, we need to remove the spasm in the muscle and allow the muscle fibers to return to their correct length. As Massage Therapists, we typically use our elbow or thumbs to do this. It usually takes anywhere from 30-90 seconds of steady pressure to completely eliminate the trigger point. That said, if the issue is chronic, you may need to come in several times to allow the muscle memory to go back to its original state.

What Can I Do On My Own?

There are some simple ways to relieve trigger points on your own time. Between massage appointments, I recommend for many of my clients to use a tennis ball, or other hard ball of similar size to help work on trigger points. You can have a tennis ball at your desk and work your neck or forearms when you are feeling them tighten up, or when you begin having pain. The tennis ball is especially useful in relieving sciatic pain. Part of the sciatic nerve is located within a muscle called the piriformis, which lies underneath the gluteus maximus. When the piriformis gets tight, it often pinches the sciatic nerve, causing localized pain and sometimes pain and numbness down the leg and into the foot. You can lie on your back on the floor and place the tennis ball under the glute. Relax your bodyweight into the ball. The goal is to apply just enough pressure for the muscle to relax and not tighten more under the pressure of the ball. This may take a few sessions, but it really does work wonders on “untying” that knot.


Karen owns Paradise Massage Studio in Orem, Utah.

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