Simple Relief of Joint and Muscle PainJanuary 6th, 2009
If you’re frustrated by joint or muscle pain that you can’t seem to get rid of, I have a possible solution for you that just may get rid of it for good. Nearly everyone experiences chronic pain at some point in there life and conditions such as tendinitis, bursitis, and arthritis are often given blame when the cause is really nothing more than a muscle knot. Most people are told to take pain killers, rest, or even do physical therapy, but the pain often persists. In some extreme cases, the misdiagnosis even leads to surgery that isn’t needed.
As shocking as that may sound, we all have some level of joint damage, and if you go to a doctor with a painful shoulder, knee, or back, chances are they’ll find some damage and recommend surgery. However, depending on your level of damage, there are likely to be many people functioning extremely well and pain free with the same amount of damage. While surgery is sometimes necessary and can make significant improvements to your life, it’s also performed a lot more than it needs to be and can make your life a lot worse.
What is a Trigger Point?
A trigger point is basically the technical term for a muscle knot. When a muscle is used excessively, some of the muscle fibers can become stuck in their contracted state. If this happens to enough fibers, entire sections of a muscle stay tight and rigid. These rigid sections of muscle are trigger points. Fortunately, they are usually easy to locate because they can be quite painful when pressure is applied to them. If you’ve ever had a deep tissue massage, then you should know exactly what I’m talking about.
The Trickery of Trigger Points
In many cases, trigger points refer pain. In other words, they send signals through your nervous system that manifest as pain in other locations. For example, a trigger point in your thigh can manifest as sharp knee pain. However, the referral patterns are not always that obvious. The concept of referred pain is hard to deny because once you apply pressure to a trigger point that is referring pain, the referred pain will intensify, sometimes unbearably.
For example, I spend a lot of time at the computer and the muscles in my upper back tend to get overused and tight as a result. I used to have a problem with strange headaches that would feel like a dull pain behind my right eye. Squeezing my right trapezius muscle would intensify the pain behind my eye to a point that I could barely tolerate.
Trigger Points Cause More Than Pain
Aside from the referred pain and possible misdiagnosis that trigger points can lead to, they can also cause some other serious problems. Because parts of the muscle are essentially locked up, the overall flexibility of the muscle is reduced, and with limited range of motion as a result, the stage is set for muscle tears.
Furthermore, the increased tightness of the muscle puts more tension on adjacent joints. As a result, the joint becomes imbalanced because it’s being pulled on one side more tightly than the other. This wears down the joint quicker than normal, decreases the integrity and stability of the joint, and can lead to serious damage that truly does require surgery.
Managing Trigger Points
Although trigger points are not always the cause of pain, we all overuse certain muscles in one way or another, and therefore, we are all prone to developing them. Managing trigger points is an essential part of maintaining a strong and pain free body that everyone should be doing on a regular basis.
Although it can be quite uncomfortable, the good news is that trigger points are easy to get rid of. You do so by massaging them on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you simply make an appointment with a masseuse and forget about it. Trigger points are quite persistent. Even though a message session will have you feeling nice and loose, trigger points can and often do come back easily, especially if you’re continually engaging in the activity that brought them on in the first place.
Tools of the Trade
Because the elimination of trigger points requires frequent massaging, the only way to do it practically is to do it yourself. After all, massages can be expensive so this should come as good news. You may be thinking how difficult and laborious it would be to give yourself a massage, but it’s really not. With the help of just one or two massage tools, it’s actually quite easy and well worth the effort.
The Foam Roller
The foam roller is probably the most versatile and easy to use tool. As you can see if you click the link, you simply position yourself on the roller, use your body weight to apply pressure, and use your arms to roll yourself back and forth. This is the tool I use use most simply because of it’s versatility and convenience.
Although The Stick has different pros and cons than the foam roller, it’s just as versatile. The biggest advantage is that you can get a lot more leverage and really hammer away at tight muscle tissue. Another advantage is that it’s far easier to travel with than a foam roller.
However, since you’re supplying all the leverage with your arms instead of your body weight, the big disadvantage is that it requires quite a bit more effort. But when you really need that extra leverage, the additional effort required is well worth it.
The Stick is also particularly easy to use on your neck which is something that is pretty much impossible to do with the foam roller.
That’s right, just a plain old tennis ball! Although you can use it on the floor just like a foam roller, I don’t think it’s as effective. Where the tennis ball really shines is when using it against a wall. You simply wedge the ball between yourself and the wall, lean against it to apply pressure, and use your legs to roll back and forth over it.
While the foam roller and The Stick are great for getting your legs, this works really well for most of your torso and your arms. Just make sure you use a clean tennis ball or it will mark up your wall. I learned that the hard way!
One thing the tennis ball is actually excellent for on the floor is the bottom of your foot. This could be especially beneficial if you suffer from plantar fasciitis.
While the TheraCane is the tool I use least often, it’s arguably one of the most important. It’s unparalleled in being able to get at really hard to reach spots while giving you great leverage at the same time. This also tends to be the most expensive tool as well, but for me, it was worth every penny just because of how well I can hammer my upper back with it when I’m exceptionally tight.
It’s works really well for the lower back as well which is a spot that the other tools don’t particularly do a good job on.
Once you get the feel for self massage, you’ll begin to recognize the tightness that develops throughout your body and you’ll be amazed at the looseness and comfort you feel afterward. Not only is it an excellent form of pain relief, but it’s also a great way to prevent injury. If you participate in any sports or other strenuous activities, it would be a great thing to incorporate into your warm-up routine, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to do it afterward also.
An Invaluable Resource
If you want to get the most out of self massage, a resource you absolutely can’t go without is The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, Second Edition by Clair Davies.
This is an amazing book that explains the science behind trigger points and describes various self massage techniques. More importantly, it gives you an index of pain symptoms and directs you to the muscles likely to be causing the problem. For each muscle, there is a thorough explanation of how to find it, what it’s function is, why it typically develops trigger points, and how to massage it. It’s truly an excellent resource that I’ve referred to repeatedly over the years.