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Anatomy of a Trigger Point

How do you choose your next movie to watch or book to read or TV show to binge? You definitely don’t want to waste this precious downtime you have. But there are so many options it can be a tad overwhelming. So how do you decide? Do you google it? Do you read all the reviews from random people you’ve never met? Maybe you get recommendations from a friend. But the last time they suggested something it made you question your friendship. Maybe you dive into which ones have won an Oscar or an Emmy a Pulitzer Prize. But those are intense and you want something more light-hearted. How on earth do you choose?

Trusting someone to guide us in the right direction towards what we are wanting to consume lands us in a bit of a paradox: we both need and loathe other peoples’ opinions. This happens all the time… and not just with entertainment. Seeking out what techniques we want to learn, and from who, in the field of bodywork and massage is no different. I have, on multiple occasions, taken a CE class suggested by an admired colleague and got nothing from it. Conversely, I have also insisted that my co-workers read a profound article on a specialized topic because it changed the way I think just to see it rejected and forgotten on the clinic floor. It is quite the conundrum.

Let’s say you want to learn more about Trigger Point Therapy. This one’s a doozy. There are so many theories about what a trigger point is and even more instructors who believe that their approach to these messy muscle misfortunes is the right one. Do you use ice or heat? Do you talk through the work or stay quiet? Do you use tools? Push through pain? Use friction? Dry needling? The options are endless. Just like searching for your next Netflix binge, how do you know who will give you exactly what you seek? The truth of it is, you don’t know. And worse, you can’t know. Until you try.

Understanding the anatomy of a trigger point is a good start. Seasoned bodyworkers often assert, with good reason, that it is essential to know your anatomy. This alone can help you decide a whole host of decisions you need to make in any given session. But here’s the dilemma: No one really knows what a trigger point is. Janet Travel gifted us with the language around muscle knots and our ability to talk about myofascial pain syndrome is based on this research. But what a trigger point feels like varies so much from person to person that creating a hard definition has proven to be contentious. Even now you may be thinking, “but I know what a trigger point is! It is a hyper-irritable bundle of muscle fibers that creates a pain response, Allison.” And you are right. What makes a thing irritable, though, and how this is somatically perceived raises some exciting conversations.

When the anatomy is vague - google “what is a muscle knot” and witness some of those conversations - the approach becomes a little more slippery. And anatomy is not isolated from its partner in crime, physiology. Describing a trigger point is impossible without attempting to interpret what it feels like. It is a bit like trying to explain laughter. Or attempting to describe the taste of salt. Why a giggle percolates or what triggers (yes, triggers) a fit of hilarity when we find something funny is slightly magical. And salt tastes, well… salty.

With the vast array of trigger point experiences and advice, I return to the question of how to know where we turn for guidance. The answer: everywhere and also nowhere. Exploring all the perspectives takes a lot of time. And most of us don’t have that - or don’t have the patience for that. Or both. But that doesn’t change the way we learn. Take all the classes. Feel what works for you. Survey your clients. Find out if one technique fared better than others. And then do not rest on that being the answer to all the things. Keep doing this for years. Decades maybe. You may change your own mind a handful of times.

There is a video link attached to this article that includes my version of how to work with trigger points. (Click on the picture to you left). Of course I believe this one to be the best because it works for me. I have seen it help the majority of my clients, and I really enjoy being right. But there are so many other possibilities. I know many people who swear by methods that do nothing for me. That is the beauty of it, though, isn’t it? If we were all the same wouldn’t this whole experience be really boring? My technique tip for this article, then, is this: Be open. Stay open. Listen to everyone. Listen to no one. And never stop exploring.

As Neo might say, be the trigger point.

Agent Smith: "Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why Do You Persist?"

Neo: "Because I CHOOSE To."


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