Aches and pains are part of everyday life, but sometimes their source may be unexpected. Your average small injury may cause you pain for a few days, and then it goes away as you heal normally. But what about times when pain persists, but the source isn’t as obvious? This is what happened to me.
A few years ago, I took a trip to Boston, and was carrying a very large backpack en route. I placed the pack in the upper luggage rack in the train, and at the end of the trip I hurt my shoulder while getting the pack down from the rack a little too fast. Nothing too serious, but definitely noticeable. After returning home from the trip, I rested my shoulder, adjusting my workouts to go easy on it, and also stretched it gently. Shoulders can be slow healers, and after some time, the ache went away, almost completely.
Although I could now exercise my whole body, there was still a twinge in the shoulder, and it just wouldn’t seem to go away. It was at that time that I got curious and purchased the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies. What a revelation! Trigger points, simply put, are small knots of pain that may form after an injury. As it explains in the book, these pain spots can interfere with the normal transmissions of nerve pathways, causing additional pain. Here’s the really weird part – sometimes the painful spot can “refer” pain to another area of the body some distance away! The situations he described were remarkable, such as being able to stop serious knee pain. These triggers points can occur all over your body.
The book goes on to go over the scientific background as well as having copious charts to show the location of known trigger points. I was unaware that the science of trigger points went back quite a few years. Word is slowing getting around. I’ve mostly seen references to it being done by massage therapists. This makes sense, because a method of treating them is to massage the sore spot. I believe that another reason that they haven’t reached common awareness is that, well, they’re weird! It’s odd to think that a very small spot may be causing pain a foot away or more! By the way, physicians who treat trigger points also use other methods to treat them, such as injections.
With the shoulder in mind, and using the helpful charts in the book, I found one of these sore spots on the outside of my shoulder. I had had no idea it was there before. This is common, as a trigger point may not feel sore unless it’s pressed upon, and that particular area was not one which got any pressure during a normal day. However, the point may be referring pain to another area, which can be quite obviously sore.
A Little Pain to Get Rid of the Big Pain
I began to massage the trigger point several times daily. Make no mistake – this can hurt. I have a decent tolerance of pain, especially if I can modulate how much, and I was eager to see this through, so I went for it vigorously, about a minute or two at a time many times a day, which was tolerable. After several days, I had noticeable improvement in my shoulder. The trigger point soreness reduced at about the same rate. Soon, I felt as good as new!
That made me wonder about my elbow, which I had hurt a few years ago. The initial injury occurred when scraping ice off my car. My elbow was sore enough that I had trouble carrying my briefcase, and gradually got better, all the way to pretty much normal. But again, there was some residual soreness, which only manifested itself when fully straightening the elbow, such as when doing a basketball shot. Again, I consulted the book, and examined myself for any trigger points relating to the elbow region. Finding a very tender spot, I began to work on it, just as with the shoulder. This one took a lot longer, and was more sore when massaged. This time the gradual reduction in pain lasted for a month. Ouch! Finally, I could see light at the end of the tunnel. The trigger point appeared to be gone, and the pain when straightening the elbow, while still slightly there, was much reduced. Sometime later, the elbow pain completely went away, and straightening my elbow is no longer an issue. How exciting, when I had thought that certain little aches just had to be there forever!
From time to time I’ve found more trigger points. These little schmucks just won’t go away!?! I found one that was making my hip sore after some errant exercise, and worked that one out, too. Just this week, I found one on my neck after having begun some new neck exercise (which might have been a little too vigorous), and now that’s all set!
The downside is very small. As far as I know, there are virtually no side effects from trigger point treatment, other than pain when massaging trigger points. To me, the worst that can happen is that nothing happens, so no pain cured. Compare that the side effects of popular drugs!
Caveat – Not a Cure-All
I don’t want to imply that this is a cure-all. It’s natural to want a panacea, that’s human nature. Your experience may vary. Consult with your healthcare professional about any serious and/or chronic pain!
But here’s a scenario where I believe that it’s worth investigating to see if you may have trigger points: You’ve already been to your doctor, and after examining you thoroughly, they’ve told you that they can’t find anything wrong, and they say to just wait for it to go away. But if pain persists, and even a second professional opinion yields nothing, this may be a time to see if you have trigger points! Read that book, and consider finding a licensed massage therapist who has trigger point knowledge. May you live as pain free as possible!