by Joseph M. Horrigan, D.C. Iron Man
We’re talking about something serious here: physical injury. Let’s not waste a moment but pick up where we left off.
My mistaken view of injuries. Until 1994, when I experienced the tremendous relief from pain and discomfort after using trigger-point therapy, I believed that all pain meant some damage to muscles, joints or tendons that needed at least a couple of weeks of rest followed by a gradual return to training.
Now I know that muscle spasms caused by irritated trigger points are a major cause of pain and that trigger points can be treated quickly. The muscle spasms then calm down, and the pain disappears. Some physical therapists and chiropractors use trigger-point therapy—but it isn’t just for treating long-term injuries; it’s for preventing niggling aches and pains from developing into serious injuries.
The book Myotherapy—Bonnie Prudden’s Complete Guide to Pain-Free Living will give you a new perspective on diagnoses that doctors sometimes inaccurately jump to, such as arthritis, chondromalacia patellae, carpal tunnel syndrome and bursitis. As Prudden notes, start off on “easy” things—like the problems I handled quickly. Get success there, and then move on to more serious problems if you have them. Her book provides the “maps” for finding the trigger points you need to work on according to whatever problem you want to treat. Once you have some experience, you’ll be able to find the trigger points without having to refer to a text.
To be sure that you’re treating muscle spasms, get clearance from a medical doctor that you have no anatomical pathology. Though unlikely, the sensitive bump in a muscle that you think is a trigger point could be a cyst or a varicose vein. Any delay in professional treatment could cause the problem to deteriorate.
Training while you recover from injury. While you undergo trigger-point therapy, you may still be able to exercise bodyparts that aren’t being treated. Find some exercises that you can perform safely, and keep training them hard. You can then continue to derive some satisfaction from your training while you wait to get everything back in good order.
Even so, don’t rush your return to a full exercise program. Just because you may feel mentally ready for something more demanding doesn’t mean that your muscles and joints are ready. Not coming back from injuries carefully enough is a major reason that people suffer from repeat injuries.
How to perform trigger-point therapy. Trigger points don’t just irritate muscles but affect joints as well. Instead of smooth, soft muscle pulling on the joints, there’s taut, lumpy muscle pulling incorrectly on the joints and causing problems. Trigger-point therapy returns the muscle to its soft and smooth natural state.
Find a trigger point by palpation—examining by touch. A trigger point is a highly sensitive spot in a muscle—sometimes referred to as a knot. Use a small, hard ball to apply sufficient pressure with your hand to the trigger point to cause discomfort. Hold it for about five to seven seconds, and then release. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the absolute maximum you can tolerate, press sufficiently so that you produce a scale reading of about a seven. You can press on the trigger point so that there’s no side-to-side or front-to-back movement or so that there’s a slight vibrationlike movement.
Once you’ve treated the first trigger point for one dose, treat another trigger point or two, and then return to the first one. Do two or three sweeps on the same trigger point per treatment. Treat all of your very sensitive trigger points. As the weeks go by, the number of trigger points you need to treat should reduce.
Daily treatments are too much for some people to handle—alternate days are better. Since bruising may occur after deep-pressure therapy, the muscles tend to be sore for a day or two, so don’t overdo the pressure or treatment frequency. Despite being very aggressive in my therapy, especially with the trigger points in my glutei, which were the most bothersome ones for my lower back, I only rarely got bruising.
While it’s best to address all the troublesome trigger points in a given area for quickest benefit, fixing just some of them can have a knock-on effect in reducing the impact from the other ones.
A few years after I studied Bonnie Prudden’s book, I came across an even more helpful book: The Trigger-point Therapy Workbook, by Clair Davies. Read one or both of the books. I got started after spending only a couple of hours with Prudden’s, and then mixed my practice of the technique with more study.
Trigger-point therapy is cheap. You’re not dependent on professional research unless you need to get into very advanced therapy, and the more you do it, the better you get at it. You have to study up on it, though. Apply yourself to conventional therapy, and take it seriously if you want it to work for you.
I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll get the “miracle” I did, but I’m sure that all who conscientiously apply trigger-point therapy will get considerable benefit. Nor am I saying that all injuries can be successfully treated with this therapy, but most can. Still, trigger-point therapy isn’t a panacea for fixing persistent abuse of exercise. You must stop doing exercises and activities that are dangerous, and cease using incorrect exercise technique.
Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new 638-page opus on bodybuilding Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, available from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008, or www.Home-Gym.com.