When considering the function of our body, more specifically the muscular system, there are so many things that can lead to dysfunction of the system. There are countless syndromes and illnesses that are either caused by and/or result in dysfunction of our bodies ability to maintain proper muscle function. Chronic issues (those issues that afflict an individual for an extended period of time) and acute issues (those issues that afflict and individual for a relatively short period of time) have assorted root causes and sometimes they are difficult to uncover and very challenging to treat. Sometimes the solutions in fairly straight forward and simple to implement. Whatever the case may be there is one specific issue that most of us deal with at some point in time which can and often does negatively affect the way that our muscles work and our bodies feel…trigger points!
First of all, what is a trigger point? The appropriate term for what we are referring to in this blog in a Myofascial Trigger Point. Let’s break that down just a little bit:
Myo (muscle) fascial (connective tissue) Trigger Points (knots which are widely viewed as a small patch of tightly contracted muscle aka an isolated muscle spasm).
So, a myofascial trigger point is small area of muscle and/or the surrounding tissue which encases the muscle, known as fascia, that is for some reason in a state of spasm. This can be quite uncomfortable or it can go unnoticed. Depending on the location and size of the trigger point you may not even know that it exists however even if you are unaware of the existence of the trigger point itself you may be extremely aware of the effects that it is having on your body. Trigger points can be related to a number of issues including but not limited to:
- Headaches (even migraines or cluster headaches)
- Low back pain which can often be misdiagnosed as being caused by other issues such as SI (sacroiliac joint) dysfunction, Sciatica, etc.
- Chronic Joint Pain
- Sore Throat
- Chest Pains (scary because they can be misidentified as cardiac symptoms)
Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS)-is the Condition of having many significantly compromised trigger points. It is can be so severe that it is difficult to distinguish from another chronic health issue known as Fibromyalgia (a condition marked by unexplained pain throughout the body). One of the reasons that trigger points can result in so much pain that they do not only have the ability to cause pain in the area where the trigger point resides but they can also create what is known as referral pain. Simply put, referral pain is pain that is experienced in a different part of the body than where the root cause for the pain resides.
For the purposes of the rest of this blog I would like focus on 2 effects that trigger points have on muscles. These two issues either directly or indirectly cause all of the issues that we have already discussed along with countless others.
The first issue that we are going to touch on is the effect that trigger points have on blood flow. When a trigger point develops it negatively impacts the blood flow to and through that area. Seeing as blood flow is the means by which fresh nutrients are delivered to and waste products are removed from an area this has some potentially significant implications. For starters, if you are receiving less fresh blood and less nutrients via that blood flow your bodies’ ability to perform and your ability to recover from stress (exercise, illness, etc) has been compromised. Less oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged, less fuel is delivered and your ability to keep up is decreased. Additionally, with a decreased blood flow comes a decreased rate of waste removal. The metabolic byproducts of muscular activity which are typically removed from the muscle and processed by the body begin to build up which can lead to additional performance and health concerns if allowed to go untreated. Shedfat Daily Teais another excellent tool which can be implemented into your routine to assist with removing toxins from your body.
The second issue that I want to address is the negative impact that trigger points can have on a muscles ability to function mechanically. If a trigger point is allowed to reside in a muscle and goes untreated then that muscles ability to move (to shorten and lengthen) can be compromised and this can lead to all sorts of problem. Improper function of a muscle means that it is unable to do its job efficiently and in order to continue meeting the demand being placed upon it, it has to compensate. This can lead to a domino effect of compensatory muscle actions (other muscles picking up the slack). In addition, as other muscles are forced to perform new work or more work than they are accustomed to the increase in stress and workload can lead to the development of trigger points in those muscles and the cycle begins to spiral out of control. This is a slippery slope and can lead to not only muscular issue but joint issues as well. Do you see where I am going with this? Any way that you slice it, allowing trigger points to go untreated can have a wide array of negative consequences on your body!
So, how can you determine where your trigger points are located and how can you treat them? There is always to option of going to a qualified professional such as a massage therapist or an acupuncturist for diagnoses and treatment. That option may get a little expensive so if you are on a budget then you can make the modest investment in a foam roller and/or a massage stick. These tools are very user friendly and when combined with proper
Diet and Exercise there is a ton of free information out there (some good and some bad) on how to use those tools. Whatever approach you decide to take one thing is for certain, trigger points are nasty little guys that need to be addressed and dealt with!
By Vic M.
B.S. Exercise Science, NSCA-CSCS Certified