What Is Trigger Point Therapy Massage?


Trigger Point Release Therapy is a focused method that targets specific points on the body to release tension. It is a variety of deep tissue massage.
 

When and Where Was Trigger Point Therapy Massage Developed?

Trigger Point Therapy Massage was pioneered in the United States by Janet G. Travell, MD, former White House physician to John F. Kennedy.  Dr. Travell (b. 1901 – d. 1997) spent her entire professional career figuring out what trigger points are, what they affect, and how to treat them.  Her first articles were published in medical journals in 1942, but her two books were not published until she was over 80 and 90 years old, respectively.

Her books were part of a collaboration with David G. Simons, MD (b. 1922 – d. 2010).  Dr. Simons was instrumental in bringing Dr. Travell’s research to book form as he did most of the writing himself.  His sharp attention to scientific method ensured that the work would withstand scrutiny from critics. Their work has served as the basis for a number of myofascial techniques that have been developed over the last few decades.

Trigger points cannot be seen on X-rays or standard MRI’s, so their existence was in question by many in the scientific community.  Only recently have scientists been able to definitively prove the existence of trigger points.  A technique using Doppler ultrasound and vibration sonoelastography shows their existence, as does using magnetic resonance elastography (MRE).  Additionally, it has been found that biopsies from active trigger points show biochemical indications of inflammation, muscle contraction, and pain-causing substances.  Their existence is no longer in question.

 

Pressure and Technique in Trigger Point Therapy Massage

Trigger Point Therapy Massage is an exceptionally effective massage technique for relieving pain.  However, it can be a bit uncomfortable while it is being performed.  Generally speaking, the discomfort is more of a “hurts so good” type pain than a pain that is intolerable.  In fact, the objective of the technique is to locate sensitive trigger points and work on them in a way that is noticeable, but does not cause too much pain.  Pressing too hard on a trigger point is actually counter-productive and should be avoided.

Trigger Point Therapy Massage can be light, moderate, or deep, depending on a person’s sensitivity and where the trigger point lies.  Although the technique produces some discomfort, the rewards are tremendous.

Trigger Point Therapy Massage is often confused with Pressure Point Massage which is a form of acupressure and has its roots in Chinese Medicine.  Pressure Point Massage deals with the manipulation of energy meridians in the body.  Trigger Point Therapy, by contrast, works on the physical mechanisms in muscles.  The two disciplines are not related, although both use pressure to obtain results.  Where pressure is applied and how it is applied are determined by very different sets of requirements, and the objectives of each practice are different.

 

Why Trigger Point Therapy Massage Works

Trigger Point Therapy Massage is a type of myofascial massage.  “Myo” is a prefix meaning “muscle,” and “fascial” means relating to the web-like tissue that surrounds our muscles, tissues, and organs.  You have seen fascia if you have ever peeled the skin off of a chicken.  It is a web-like white substance that you encounter as you try to peel the skin off or pull the muscles apart.

“Trigger Points” are small sections of muscle, usually about the size of a nickel where the muscle has gone into contraction and has cut off its supply of blood, oxygen, and energy.  Muscles require energy to lengthen, so without being able to get the energy they need, they are stuck.

To make matters even worse, the byproducts of muscle metabolism (waste) are stuck in the trigger points because there is no circulation to carry them away.  This irritates the area as it becomes more and more toxic over time.

The pain caused by trigger points can be local (where the pain is felt), but more often than not, trigger points produce pain elsewhere.  When pain is felt somewhere away from a trigger point, it is called “referred pain.”

Trigger Point Therapy Massage locates these specific points and releases them by pushing out the waste and encouraging the flow of fresh blood and lymph to the area.  By returning energy (food) to the tissues, they are able to perform the function of releasing/lengthening.  When this happens, pain is resolved.

Some soreness for a day or two following Trigger Point Therapy is normal.  Drinking plenty of water before and after your massage can help reduce the severity of discomfort.

An interesting ‘side effect’ of Trigger Point Therapy is that oftentimes trained therapists find and release trigger points that may help with conditions that you did not think were bad enough to mention.  For example, you may seek treatment for headaches and find that the numbness in your hand has improved.

It is important to mention that trigger points are often caused by the things that we do over and over every day, so even though you are likely to get relief with treatment, returning to those unhealthy patterns in which you are holding your body (like working at a computer) will likely cause trigger points to return.  Your massage therapist can assist you in identifying what you may be doing that is causing the formation of the trigger points and suggest ways in which you can make adjustments to help prevent them from reforming.  Your massage therapist may also suggest specific exercises that will help you to counteract what you are doing that causes the formation of trigger points.

 

What Conditions Can be Treated with Trigger Point Therapy Massage?

Trigger Point Therapy Massage can be used to treat an astounding number of conditions.  This list is not comprehensive.  If you are curious as to whether Trigger Point Therapy Massage can help you, please contact us for further information.

  • Neck Pain
  • Headaches
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Frozen Shoulder
  • Back Pain
  • Disc Pain (from a bulge, rupture, or herniation)
  • Hip Pain
  • Sciatica (pain originating in the buttocks and radiating down the leg)
  • Pelvic Pain
  • Hand / Arm Pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • TMJ / Jaw Pain
  • Plantar Fascitis (foot pain)
  • Bursitis
  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis / Tendinosis / Tendinopathy
  • Tennis Elbow / Golfer’s Elbow
  • Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI)
  • Rotator Cuff / Shoulder Pain

 

Who Should Not Get Trigger Point Therapy Massage?

Trigger Point Therapy Massage is generally safe for most healthy people.  Persons who have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners should let the massage therapist know.  This form of massage can be deep at times and may cause minor bruising as a result.  People with bleeding disorders would be at risk because of this.  Unlike Deep Tissue Massage, Trigger Point Therapy can be done with a lighter touch in many cases, but the massage therapist needs to know in advance so that the treatment can be modified.

Anyone who has Congestive Heart Failure or kidney disease should get medical clearance before getting Trigger Point Therapy Massage as it puts a good deal of strain on these two systems.

Anyone who has an active infection such as a cold or the flu, or who has an infected wound, should not get a massage.  Colds and flu contagious and can be transmitted to your massage therapist.  Infections can be made worse and/or spread throughout the body through a massage.

If you have had a recent injury or if you have an injury that will not heal, you should consult a physician prior to getting Trigger Point Therapy Massage.  If you have been in a serious accident such as a car crash, you should wait a minimum of 72 hours prior to getting a massage and have the clearance of a physician.  This is because our bodies often do not show symptoms of severe trauma for 2-3 days post-accident.  A massage could exacerbate the symptoms or cause further injury.

 

How Trigger Point Therapy Massage is Performed

Trigger Point Therapy Massage is usually done similarly to Swedish massage, meaning on a table with sheets.  The person receiving the massage is typically unclothed, (although some people may choose to leave on their underwear), and a sheet and blanket are used to cover the body.  The massage therapist will uncover each section of the body (for example, leg, back, arm) in order to work on it and then cover it again before moving onto the next area.

In some cases, trigger point therapy might be done through clothing, but it is more effective being done directly on the skin to allow gliding over the point.