Rachel Richards

licensed massage therapist

east village, nyc

News: June 2011

Trigger points - what a pain!

You know that painful spot on the back of your shoulder that just keeps acting up time and again? That might be a trigger point.

Many people have heard of trigger points, but few know what they actually are: tiny hyperirritable spots inside a taut band of skeletal muscle. They are usually caused by tension, poor posture, overuse, or injury. Trigger points can be anywhere in the body, and typically cause referral pain. This means that the trigger point may be in one spot and you may be feeling it in another.

When you contract a muscle, your nervous system is actively sending a message to that muscle, telling it to contract. When that happens, proteins called actin and myocin link together to form cross-bridges. When you stop telling the muscle to contract, it relaxes, and the actin and myocin unlink. When a muscle is chronically tight, the area becomes ischemic, or lacks blood flow. This lack of blood to the area may cause a single actin and myocin to remain linked even though the brain has stopped telling that muscle to contract. This causes hyperirritability and referral pain. A trigger point may be active, meaning it hurts all the time, or latent, meaning it only acts up occasionally.

So what do we do about it? In traditional trigger point therapy, the massage therapist locates a palpable nodule within a taut band of tissue, which is the trigger point, and applies static pressure, often using a finger or thumb. The pressure signals override the pain signals and the area eventually releases. The pressure is maintained until the trigger point is extinguished. Once the therapist leaves the area, fresh blood rushes in. The muscle is then stretched.

While pressure is being applied to a trigger point, you may experience referral pain, nausea, dizziness, sweating, and/or twitching. The pressure should be firm but always within your pain tolerance.

The trigger point may come back if you continue to, for example, maintain poor posture, irritate the area with overuse or misuse, or experience high levels of anxiety. That's one of the reasons it's so important to get massage regularly and do your homework to extend the benefits. Be aware of your body and your movement, and do the exercises your massage therapist gives you to ensure those painful trigger points stay away!

No time for sleep?

When I ask my clients how much sleep they get, most of them laugh or say "not enough." If you can relate, you may not understand how crucial it is to get proper sleep. Deep rest restores the body. If you suffer from pain or injury, you're not going to heal very quickly, if at all, if you are depriving yourself of sleep. Optimal healing takes place during sleep, when our bodies are at rest. When we lack deep rest, our bodies produce chemicals, namely one called substance P, that enhance our perceptions of pain. In other words, sleep deprivation physically hurts. If that's not enough convincing, here are some other reasons recommended by Harvard Health Publications:

  1. Sleep improves learning and memory. It allows the brain processing time to commit new information to memory.
  2. Sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by changing our levels of hormones that monitor appetite, and by altering the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates.
  3. Sleep keeps you safe. When you're tired, you're more likely to have accidents and falls.
  4. You're just not as fun to be around when you don't get enough sleep, since it affects your mood, making you irritable, impatient, unable to concentrate, and just plain grouchy.
  5. Take care of your heart. Serious sleep deprivation has been associated with irregular heartbeat, hypertension, and increased stress hormone levels.
  6. Stay healthy! Lack of sleep alters immune function, making it more likely for you to contract diseases.

Sweet dreams!

What's new with me ...

Love is in the air! Jesse and I just celebrated 2 years of marriage. And now we're getting ready for my sister's wedding in July. June is super busy, but good busy. Lots of birthdays (including mine :)) and family events. I'm looking forward to fun in the sun this summer!

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American Massage Therapy Association

Swedish InstituteCertified Myoskeletal TherapistNational Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork

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