How does one develop trigger points?
One develops trigger points by…well, living life. Repetitive strain (such as sitting and working on a computer everyday), engaging in sports, moving boxes, mopping the floor, walking a dog, playing a musical instrument, and carrying a heavy bag are all examples of how one might develop trigger points.
Stress can also play a major role in the development of trigger points. Often, we adapt to stress by holding and tensing our muscles in a pattern that is unique to our experiences in life. For instance, a singer might develop trigger points in the masseter muscle of the jaw, the trapezius muscles of the neck, or in the abdominal muscles, depending on that particular singer’s emotional and physical muscular holding patterns.
What is a trigger point acupuncture session?
A trigger point acupuncture session is an acupuncture treatment that incorporates a needling technique to release the tight bands in the muscles. In essence, the treatment integrates the Eastern concept of the meridians and qi with the Western concept of muscular and fascial* constrictions leading to a particular pattern of pain.
When there are constrictions in the muscles and fascia, there is an obstruction of the free flow of qi through the meridian pathways. This obstruction of qi causes pain. From a Western point of view, qi can be thought of as a combination of blood circulation, lymphatic drainage, and nerve conduction. Within this context, treatment of myofascial pain is treatment of the body system as a whole and can have far-reaching effects on one’s physical and mental health.
What does it feel like? Will it hurt?
I am asked this frequently, and it is a challenging question to answer as each person has a unique tolerance to sensation. (I purposefully do not use the word “pain!”)
When a tight muscle releases, one might experience a cramping sensation. This sensation lasts briefly, only for a second or two. Afterwards, patients generally feel quite relaxed and enjoy a nice siesta on the table.
I encourage my patients to communicate with me throughout the session. The treatment can be modified at any time to accommodate one’s level of sensitivity.
What can I expect after a trigger point session?
While the experience is different for each person, it is common to experience some soreness after a trigger point session. Some people feel it immediately, while others don’t notice the soreness until later that evening or the next day. The soreness generally lasts for a day or two after the session and is usually then followed by a reduction in pain.
The soreness is not only caused by the release of lactic acid and toxins from the muscles, but is also due to the inflammation caused by the rush of healing factors to the area (fresh red and white blood cells, oxygen and nutrients).
To combat the soreness, drink plenty of water to flush the toxins from your system and apply heat to the area. ** Moist heat is generally recommended over dry heat as it penetrates more deeply into the muscle and does not dehydrate the skin. ***
Don’t use ice! While ice might temporarily decrease the soreness, it will also “freeze” the area and slow down the healing process that the acupuncture needles have set into motion. Therefore, ice is counterproductive in this situation!
Stretching is another great way to reduce the soreness and to maintain the release of the muscle. Our website is constantly being updated with new video demonstrations for the most common stretches we recommend at City Acupuncture – check them out!
How can I keep these trigger points from being reactivated?
Aside from a regular stretching routine, other changes will likely be necessary in order to stop the cycle of reactivating the trigger points. Posture and sleeping positions should be examined and addressed, workstations may need to be revised, and movements in sports and music, etc, may need to be corrected. Stress management is key. Practices such as mindfulness and/or meditation can help to reduce stress and to remind the muscles to soften and relax.
*The term “fascia” refers to a sheath of connective tissue that encases every organ and muscle in our body, from head to toe.
**Please consult with your physician if you are pregnant, have a heart or vascular condition, dermatitis, or diabetes. Heat may not be appropriate in these cases.
***Examples of moist heat are a hot shower, a whirlpool, a hot bath (highly recommended with Epsom salts!) or a steamed towel. If you use a heating pad, whether dry or moist, use for only 15-20 minutes at a time, 3-4 times per day.