The power of a pain-free life is in your hands with these simple trigger point massage techniques
Trigger points are the knots you find when you instinctively massage or press an area of your body to relieve tension or pain. These points form in connective tissue (fascia) and are typically tender to the touch, but they can also cause pain and other symptoms, felt either where they are, or referred to elsewhere in the body.
Trigger point therapy involves applying direct and sustained pressure onto trigger points in order to release them. This is distinct from myofascial release, which is a gentle hands-on therapy that works to release restrictions in the fascia, the main connective tissue in the body. However, both use a similar approach to resolve referred pain patterns. Just as the location and size of trigger points can vary enormously, so can the symptoms caused by them. Here are a few common trigger points and how to work them yourself.
The sternocleidomastoid muscle attaches to your breastbone, collarbone and mastoid process behind the ear. There is one muscle on either side of your neck and each turns your head to the opposite side, for example, when you look over your shoulder. Trigger points here cause tension headaches, pain in the sinuses and throat and contribute to dizziness, tinnitus, earache, jaw pain, blocked sinuses and a dry cough.
Trigger points found in the upper part of the trapezius muscle can cause tension headaches and headaches stretching around the ear in the shape of a question mark. They can also contribute to jaw and neck pain by creating tension in your neck. You can work these trigger points by massaging with your opposite hand, or with a ball placed against a wall.
The muscles around the jaw can get very tight, especially from stress or extensive dental work. The two medial pterygoid muscles sit just inside the left and right lower jawbones, mirroring the position of the masseter on the outside. Trigger points here contribute to jaw TMJ, throat and mouth pain. They can also make it difficult for you to open your mouth fully. On the same side as your pain, use your thumb to feel along your jawbone for the corner, just below your ear.
Your temples are home to large, fan-like temporalis muscles that extend down on either side of your face, to your jaw. These chewing muscles can become very tight, sometimes to the point that they feel ridged when massaged. Trigger points here can form due to stress, the chewing of gum, or prolonged dental work. Symptoms include head, tooth and jaw pain, sensitive teeth and eyebrow pain.
The name of the Subclavius muscle indicates its location, which is directly under (sub) your collarbone (clavius). For its size, this tiny muscle can cause a disproportionate number of problems. Trigger points here cause pain in your arm and into your hand and fingers. When the muscle is tight, for instance as a result of a lot of computer work, it contributes to pulling your shoulder forwards.
It’s fine to work on trigger points using your hands, fists, thumbs, fingers or elbows. Use whatever enables you to comfortably maintain the pressure you need to ease the trigger point.
Work little and often
Regular daily work brings the best results. Aim for a maximum of 30 minutes per day, either spaced out in sessions or in a single block.
Start gently and build up
Gentle pressure encourages your tissues to let go. Going in too hard and fast will only cause tissues to tighten more.
Stay within your comfort zone
Using a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is no pain and 10 is excruciating, never allow the treatment to take you to more than seven.
Finish each session with some gentle stretches of the area you’ve worked on. Try visualising the trigger point knot ‘untangling’ itself.
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