Are your muscles feeling sore, tight and fatigued? You’ve stretched , You’ve deloaded, done your recovery session, even taken a hot bath. You know what you need is some deep, hard, painful soft tissue work. Oh how nice a massage would be right now. Well there is a fantastic self-help way of relieving the soreness
What Is A Trigger Point?
A trigger point is a specific area in the muscle where the fibres are over active and cannot relax and release from their contracted state. Most of us at some point in time would have referred to this as a knot.
Trigger points can be actively painful, i.e. you feel the pain at the site or because of the trigger point. They can also be completely pain free, unless they are poked and touched. These are called latent trigger points. Both will cause you issues and further pain.
What Is Myofascial Pain Syndrome?
Myo is referring to the muscle;fascia is the stuff that covers the muscles. Myofascial Pain Syndrome is therefore when you experience pain as a result of dysfunction in your muscles and fascia. It is basically a fancy name for muscle pain. Myofascial Pain Syndrome occurs when a muscle and/or its fascia has trigger points.
How Do Trigger Points Cause Pain
Not only do some trigger points hurt you right on the spot, they can get you in places totally unrelated. A big symptom of a trigger point is its referred pain. Trigger points have the ability to send their pain to another part of the body. Trigger points can cause:
- Neck Pain
- Jaw Pain
- Back Pain
- Tennis Elbow
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- General Muscle & Joint Pain
Often joint pain we experience is simple referred pain from trigger points. It is common to feel referred pain from a trigger point in your wrists, shoulders, knees and hips. To test it out, extend your wrist. The muscle that pops out on the top of your forearm is a common place for latent trigger points. Press around there, you are most likely going to find some sore points! Some of you will even find pressing on those sore points will refer pain down to your wrist.Trigger points make the muscle tighter and shorter, often reducing range of motion. If you don’t know they are there, chances are they will go untreated and can lead to further injury and bad mechanics.
Sometimes, you just don’t know they are there. In this case, it’s not too serious, but if you have knee pain and it is because you have some trigger points in your calves, it is very easy for it go unnoticed and untreated. In fact, this is a common cause, or secondary cause of knee pain. The pain caused by latent trigger points is often more worrying than those of active ones.
As a general rule, when working, lifting and exercising we are stressing the same muscles and movements. This repeat stress can lead to overworked muscles and consequently tightness and trigger points.The lower body has many common trigger points. Many people sit all day long, and then go to the gym and do the same things day in day out. We are going to look at some of the more common places where almost everyone is tight.
What Your Should Know Before
- It will be painful… but, it shouldn’t kill you. If it doesn’t feel like a good pain, stop. Maybe you have an injury.
- Go slowly. Work up and down the muscle at a slow pace, and stop on any tender points. These may be trigger points.
- Work up and down through each muscle about 5 times or hold and move around on an area for 30 seconds at a time. Do each muscle a couple of times, it’s not important how much you do it, you will know what you need once you start.
- When you reach a trigger point it will be a pretty deep pain you feel. This is OK, grit your teeth and stay on it.
- If it is a trigger point, as you hold the ball on the spot you will feel the initial shock of pain diminish.
- You may also feel referral pain. Don’t stress, this is normal and means you have hit a spot.
- When you are on an area, work around, test it out. Trigger points are usually in certain areas, but don’t be afraid to move around on the ball and find where yours are.
Remember, even if you don’t find any trigger points or specifically release them, you will find that a deep tissue massage does wonders for how your muscles and fascia feel.Recovery is important, and this is one of the steps to feeling top notch. If you don’t actually find trigger points, you will see that these areas are very tight in most people and simply need loosening anyway. Have a go work slowlyand be prepared to find a few.
1. The Foot
OK, so I am going to start in a place that doesn’t have any trigger points. Intelligent eh? I simply had to include this one in a tennis ball post because this is the best way to get your foot loose. I will discuss this more in an upcoming series on fascia, however under your foot is your plantar fascia. How this functions directly affects the rest of your leg. Most of us are tight here, and we are going to start from the bottom and work up.
Stand on one leg, place the ball under the foot and then let your bodyweight onto the other leg. Roll around on each foot for about 30 seconds. Get the whole foot, under the arch, and hold on any tighter areas.
2. The Peroneals
These are tight in quite a few people. Tight peroneals can lead to knee pain. Let’s get them loose.
Lay on your side, place the ball under the outer side of your lower leg. Roll up and down slowly, and stop whenever you feel a tender spot. If you don’t feel any, thats great, keep rolling.
3. The Calves
Your gastrocnemius and soleus are bound to have trigger points. Most of them you wont even know about until you find them.
Start on your bum, raise yourself a little (the more of your body that is raised off the ground, the more pressure you can put through the ball…) and place the ball underneath your calves. Roll right from the achillies up to under the knee. Slowly. Stop on any tender points and hold. As the calf is pretty wide, you might need to try a few lines, i.e medial, middle and lateral. See how you go.
4. The ITB
This tight band of fascia along the side of your leg is almost always tight, and can often have trigger points. You may find in this case the tennis ball serves better for a simple fascia release, however, up closer to your hip there are some trigger points.
Roll on the tennis ball, from the knee right up to the hip. If you come across a sore point stop and hold. The ITB is often very tight, and rolling on it with a tennis ball will be painful. Personally, I often get on the tennis ball for a more hardcore stretch than the foam roller, but rarely find trigger points.
5. The TFL
This baby is often tight in people who are sitting down a lot. It gets put into a shortened position and over time will adjust and stay in that shortened state.
Locate the TFL first. It is between your ITB and the top of your hip bone, slightly more anterior. Put the tennis ball underneath it, put as much body weight onto it as you can handle and begin searching for the dreaded trigger points.
6. The Glute Med
Similar area to the TFL, but slightly more posterior. A lot of people tend to be tighter up the top of the glute med, where it attaches. Search around and figure your body out for yourself!
7. The Hip Rotators
You may or may not have heard of a little, painful and annoying muscle called the piriformis. This is one of a few hip rotators that you will be working through, but seems to be the one that causes people the most problems.
Basically sit on the ball in the meaty part of your butt . Move around a lot and I will guarantee you will find the piriformis . This thing is small, tight and angry. When you find it you may get pain shooting down your leg. Hold it there, you can do it, and you will feel enormous benefits from this one. If the pain is too sharp, straighten your leg out and sit in he same spot, this means the hip rotators aren’t on as much stretch. The result isn’t as great but you can work into it.
What You Should Know After
- After the session stretch the areas you found trigger points in.
- You may be bruised, probably not, but if you are doing it for the first time this could be a side effect.
- Again, for first timers, you can be a little sore after it. It is pretty localized work.
Now that your lower body is sufficiently sore and angry at you for poking around, keep at it. These things don’t happen over night. Most of us get trigger points from repeated movement patterns or being in the same position for lengths of time (i.e sitting down all day at work). The same goes the other way. It will take time to release everything, but I guarantee after one session with the tennis ball, you will feel the difference.
Time to move up and loosen up the upper body
1. The Psoas
This is a tough one to actually get trigger points done with the tennis ball, however this kind of work will give it a good release. The Psoas is often tight from people sitting down at work all day and having it in a shortened position.
About 2 cm right from your belly button is the initial place you want to put the ball. Lay flat and gradually raise yourself up of the ground. The higher you go the more stretch and consequently more pressure you put through your Psoas. Repeat this with the ball in the same spot a few times, then move it up and down slightly. Test out each area of the Psoas and find where you are tightest. Not everyone will feel something from this exercise, if you are tight in the Psoas I find the best way to get nice and deep where you need is some hands on active release work or acupuncture. However this is a good, cheap and convenient start!
2. The Erectors
We all tend to have pretty bad posture when we are sitting, and we can develop tight erectors (these are the long muscles that extend from your lower back right up to your neck on either side of the spine). You probably won’t find many trigger points in this exercise but, the thoracic and cervical (upper) erectors are where you want mobility and are often very tight, so that is where we will work through.
Place two tennis balls in a sock and place it on the ground behind you. Lay down slowly and extend over the two balls. Start around where I have in this picture. You will find they fit perfectly onto your erectors and the groove between the two balls leave enough room for your spine. Once you have extended over an area, sit up, shift forward slightly, and come down again over the next vertebrae. Do this right up your back. As I mentioned before this isn’t really trigger point work, but since it’s a tennis ball post I had to include it. So many people have bad posture, this will help to straighten you out and hopefully reduce back spasms. This may also help with bulging disc treatment, as the rest of your back may get tight as a result.
3. The Trapezius
For whatever reason I am betting you have tight traps. These are the bulges of muscle on either side of your neck. Go on and touch them right now and I’m sure your finger will bounce off them. People tend to get tight traps from sitting with a bad posture, stress, lifting and simply everyday life. Your traps run right down to you middle back, but it’s the top area that you will find are generally tighter.
There are two ways you can approach this. Firstly, you can put the ball on the ground, lay back and find the spots on your traps that are the tightest. Move your body around by pushing from your legs. Try to relax your neck and head.
You have lots of trigger points in this area, however you might find that the overall muscle is simply too tight and you need to loosen it first before you can get specific trigger points.
Some people may find this a little awkward so…
Sitting and using your computer leaves you with tight pecs. Your shoulders are often in a rounded position and your pec major and pec minor want to stay in that shortened position. Let’s not even touch on the fact that most people are bench press dominant when they go to the gym. Point is, these get tight, and need to be released for optimal shoulder health.
It’s a big muscle, so play around. Lay on the ground with the ball underneath you. Roll around a little until you find tight and tender spots, then hold. This is a pretty painful one, but very necessary in almost everyone.
5. The Rotator Cuff
The rotator cuff consists of four muscles. The infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis and supraspinatus. Check out this picture.
You can see that the only two you can really access are the infraspinatus and the teres minor, they sit on the back of your scapula and can be palpated through the skin. These are both external rotators. The other two are very deep and can really only be located by a specialist. Rotator cuff tightness and trigger points are a very common cause of shoulder pain. Bad sitting posture, keeping your arms overhead a lot, using the mouse with one hand and typing with no elbow rest can cause these can become very tight. This can help to relieve a pinched nerve in a shoulder
First you need to locate the infraspinatus and teres minor. These sit smack bang on the meat of your shoulder blade. Check out where mine is (see the red marks from some tennis ball work!)
You then lay on the ball, one your side. You will find that your shoulder blade moves round to be underneath you and will be able to sit nicely on top of the tennis ball. Move around slightly to see where you are tighter. Try the whole length of the muscle for yourself. Once you have found a spot, lay there and don’t move. These muscles are very tight and will respond.
For some extra work, hold your arm in the two positions I have below and internally and externally rotate your shoulder. Do this about 1o times. You should feel the pain slowly getting more bearable. The ball won’t move, so you will be staying on the trigger point or sore point, and you will be giving yourself some very cheap and easy active release therapy. This does wonders for loosening up your rotator cuff and keeping your shoulders healthy.
If you don’t have pain, get into these spots around once a week anyway. Most of us are tight and dont even know it. If you are tighter in some areas. You will only feel better. Optimal muscle function is critical to your exercise program. Not only will you feel better, you will recover faster and be able to work a little harder in the gym. By getting into these spots you are ensuring that you are doing your best to prevent many overuse injuries.