Muscles get testy when they’re disrespected. This is the way that most people think of trigger points as being activated – blunt trauma or strain. When it happens like this, the Disrespected Hitman appears, does his job and goes away.
Blunt trauma is when the muscle is bumped or somehow takes a hit that damages the tissues. Trigger points are activated so that we get reminded to avoid contracting or lengthening the muscle until it heals. This reminder occurs through the referral pattern of the trigger point, which usually pain.
Strain is when the muscle is overloaded to the point of injury. This might happen when you step off the curb in a funny way and twist your ankle. If the injury is minor and the trigger point is not strongly driven by Organized Pain, it goes away after a short while. At that point, the pain subsides and the muscle is able to contract and lengthen again.
Chill can cause mildly active trigger points to become very active. As the muscle contracts to generate heat, the referral pattern of trigger point generates pain. This commonly happens by lying under a draft, letting ourselves get chilled as temperature drops or sitting on a cold bleacher.
There are a few interesting versions of this that we create purposefully…
Stretch. Pay attention to the patterns created by your stretching. Let’s talk about the slow, easy stretch of the lateral hamstring again. When the “stretch feeling” is along the back of the thigh, it is the sensation of the belly of muscle being stretched. When the “stretch feeling” occurs behind the knee, it means that we are lengthening it enough to fire and release the trigger point without injuring the muscle. That’s why we get sensation in areas that don’t make sense while we are stretching.
Soreness from exercise. This is where we activate trigger points by purposefully stressing the muscle with exercise. Specifically, this is created by the contraction of muscles to slow down movement (called eccentric contraction). This happens when you are lowering the weight, or using the muscles on the front of your shin to slow down your foot as you are walking down hill. If we do this mildly, we have moderate soreness for a few days. If we do this intensely, we have 2nd day delayed-onset soreness that really debilitates us.
Again, this is the way that most of us think of trigger points getting activated. But we will learn that trigger point referral persists when we have support from Organized Pain. There are two other hitmen that make persistent pain – The Rogue Hitman and The Obedient Hitman. I’ll talk about those soon but I need to cover a few other concepts first…
Tony Preston has written manuals on neuromuscular, craniosacral and integrative bodywork. He teaches Integrative Bodywork in Atlanta Georgia. He also sees clients there.