The Pulse - November 2012

Volume 8.11

Trigger Points: What a Pain in the Neck!

Why do we teach and encourage self foam rolling, rolling with a “stick”, and using tennis balls and the like to apply compression to your muscles? This article will provide more of the science behind the technique along with some information guiding you toward some self-help strategies of your own to manage muscle pain you may experience from time to time without the use of pain medications.

The different forms of self rolling techniques all have one thing in common. They offer a means of delivering ischemic pressure to muscles. Ischemia, a local deficiency in blood supply caused by the pressure to the tissue, results when force is administered using any of the mentioned devices. Sounds like it would not be a good thing. After all, we need that blood supply right? Yes, we do but, so does the point of sensitized muscle that has nagged you incessantly for days and sometimes weeks. In order for that muscle to be “turned off”, we have to restrict its ability to continue contracting. Affecting blood supply, and therefore oxygen intake, is a very effective way to aid in calming down the contractile abilities of overly tight muscles.

What causes this hyper-contracted state in a muscle in the first place and what is it anyway? First, let’s answer the second question. The highly sensitized muscle is called a trigger point. It gets this name because it often “triggers” pain in other parts of the body when pressure is applied to it. Medically, it’s defined as a “hyperirritable locus within a tight band of skeletal muscle.” In layman’s terms, it’s an area of spasm, or knot, within a muscle. A common example can be found in the upper trapezius. The trapezius muscle spans from the base of your head to your shoulders and comes down into a “v’ at your mid back.  Pinch just enough to get to the muscle layers of the upper trapezius right by the base of the neck and you may reveal a trigger response into your same side shoulder, upward toward the ear and side of head, or even downward toward your same side shoulder blade. That is a trigger point.

Now, let’s explore what causes this often irritable feeling. Dr. Jonathan Kuttner, a family doctor who, after suffering a horrific hang gliding accident that left him in a constant state of chronic back pain for 6 years, switched his focus to be one that treated those with chronic muscular and joint pain, states it best on his website, www.lifeafterpain.com. Within it he reveals that, “The key structure in understanding trigger points is the muscle spindle fiber. This is a nerve arranged in a spiral, looking and behaving like a spring that lies parallel with your muscle fibers. When it is stretched, it sends messages to your spinal cord. When the muscle fiber reaches beyond a critical length, the spindle will fire a particular message. This message then goes up your nerve to the spinal cord and races straight back to the muscle fiber, causing it to contract”.

So, trigger points are actually part of a protective system your body uses to keep safe, to stop muscles from being overstretched, and to prevent joints from being damaged. They occur when your muscle spindle becomes sensitized, for example, after you have been injured. It stays in this protective mode and it will not allow the muscle fibers to lengthen, hence the localized knot, or spasm. This localized spasm is the trigger point. Trigger points cause muscle to stay in spasm, even after the threat of damage is no more.

Now let’s switch gears to discover together what you can do to rid yourself of overly tight muscles. Go back to your upper trapezius, we explored a bit earlier in our example of a common trigger point. Apply the same pinching technique as before to find a contentious spot. This time though, once you find one, ease your amount of pressure until you can feel little to no discomfort. Hold that degree of pressure for about 30 seconds. You will note that the area softens some as you are holding it. After about 30 seconds, apply more pressure while continuing to avoid increasing discomfort. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat. Continue this process of gradually applying more and more pressure until you can pinch full force with little to no discomfort in the previously irritable site. You have effectively reversed the message to remain contracted being sent by the local muscle spindles.

This technique is one that we strongly believe in as part of anyone’s preventive health plan. Tools such as the foam rollers, rolling sticks, and various sized balls all provide slightly different, but still very effective, means of eliminating pain caused by over stimulated muscle spindles.

Exercise of the Month: Improving Movement by Addressing Trigger Points

Recipe: Spaghetti Squash

This is spaghetti squash season. As the name implies, it is a healthy low calorie double for pasta.

Compare the nutrition facts per serving:


It’s very easy to cook using one of two simple methods.

Directions:

Wash then slice the squash lengthwise. Pierce the skin several times and put each half face down in a baking dish with an inch of water in the bottom. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 15 minutes or until a knife slides easily into the skin. Carefully remove from the dish and allow to cool until it is safe to handle. Use a fork and scrape the seeds away. You can toast them with olive oil and a little sea salt later if you wish. Once the seeds are removed continue scraping the flesh with a fork revealing spaghetti like strands. Dress the squash just as you would regular spaghetti. Alternately, you can roast the squash in the oven. Place sliced side face down in a lightly greased roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and proceed as above.

Client Spotlight

Danetta Mecikalski

Danetta is an enthusiastic mother of two who began training at BodyBasics nine months ago. She and her husband enjoy traveling as well as participating in various physical activities. She wanted to be ready for a big scheduled trip to Europe over the summer. Danetta has always been a very driven person who does not let obstacles derail her, it only fuels her fire. One example of this would be her finishing medical school at the U of A while being eight months pregnant. Just six years ago Danetta was very ill hoping for a kidney donor. A generous young serviceman agreed to donate his kidney for the sake of a complete stranger. Since then Danetta has become very active for a non-profit ministry called Books for Soldiers (Booksforsoldiers.com) During that time she decided it was time to hang up her white coat as a pulmonologist (lung doctor) to enable herself to be a stay at home mom. Shortly thereafter she started her part time job as a Mary Kay distributer. One other aspect that tries to drag Danetta down is her small airway disease, this makes it all the more difficult to breathe especially during exertion. During her time here at BodyBasics she has made leaps and bounds pertaining to her health and wellness. One such affirmation was during her European vacation on a bike ride, where she out pedaled the younger guide and was able to keep up with her husband. During the beginning of her training finding the proper hip hinge was difficult, now she is deadlifting 100 pounds!

Thank you Danetta for always working as hard as you possibly can to achieve your goals, and for never saying “I can’t”. You are a pleasure and a joy to work with. ~Nick

BodyBasics wishes our clients competing in this year’s El Tour de Tucson the very best.

Need some last minute race strategy sessions prior to the big day? Schedule a session with Mike Haas, our very own USA Tri Coach who has completed the race numerous times.

How about some post race TLC? Soothe those tired and sore muscles by scheduling a 60 or 90 minute foam rolling and stretching session.

Happy Thanksgiving from your BodyBasics Team!

Amber Stazenski, Nick McKim, Maureen Raine, Chris & Kris Litten, Mike Haas, and Amelia Olson

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