Chronic Pain? Chronic stiffness? How to massage it away!
Used to run but can’t anymore because of constant pain in heels?
Numbness in your arms and hands?
Shoulder pain that does not let you lift your arm and scratch your back?
What would you tell to the people above? Would you advise them to see a doctor?
But what if I told you that they have already seen a doctor and that nothing has worked so far?
What if I told you that this situation has being going on for them for years?
And…what if I told you that their cure is as simple as…massage?
Enter: My own 7-year story of recurring injuries and how I got over it with massage!
It was a beautiful summer day. I was in Greece, enjoying a nice swim in the pretty Sea of Crete. As I am lazily swimming in frog style, I close my legs with force to propel myself forward…Ouch!!! I felt intense pain in my left thigh. I had to stop swimming.
I walked out of the sea feeling pain in my thigh as I was walking. The pain lessened as time passed by, but I had to be careful during the first few days, as every time I walked I would slightly feel pain.
After the first few days the pain went away. However, I did lose my flexibility.
Up until that point I was quite flexible. I could not do the splits, but I was really close (and was not practicing btw!). After my injury, my hip abduction range of motion went from 60-70 degrees to 45. In other words, e.g., when sitting on the floor I could not open my legs (with my legs being straight) far from each other anymore. However, my range of motion was still “normal” for an average person so the doctor would not have any recommendations for me (even though for me in particular this level of flexibility was low!!).
In fitness group classes I noticed that my range of motion was similar to the range of motion that fit seniors have. Nature tells us that seniors are stiffer than young people. But I was only 18! And I used to be so much better! Agh…if it were not for that injury…
So I tried to get my flexibility back…in vain. I started stretching. Whenever I would start stretching I would – at some point – get the same pinching pain in my thigh. Oops! Back to square one!
This situation continued for 7 years. And my flexibility remained super-low, without me being able to move past that phase. Whenever I tried, I would get the same thigh injury back! And I did try more than 10 times during those 7 years…
All that continued until I discovered trigger points. Once I started working on them, I went from being stiff to doing the splits in less than 6 months!
Have chronic pain and/or recurrent injuries? Trigger points may be the reason!
Trigger points are muscle knots that cause pain, usually…referred pain. That means that you will feel pain in a spot close to but not exactly where the trigger point is. For example, you may have ankle pain from a trigger point in your calf!
It seems that trigger points may be activated by almost anything: overtraining, accidents, psychological distress, and/or other imbalances…Thus, you may have an event happening (e.g., accident) and thus know that you may have gotten trigger points, or there may be no event signaling their arrival (e.g., they may be caused by stress). Pretty random, right?
If you have had pain for quite some time, and nothing seems to fix it, then trigger points may be the reason.
Trigger points will typically make you feel (referred) pain when you stretch the muscle. Thus, you may never notice their presence until you do some stretching and realize that there are some areas who seems to be very stiff and tense…Hmm…
Btw, if you do have trigger points then stretching makes them worse. This is why I kept re-injuring myself every time I started a new stretching routine!
How do I know whether I have trigger points?
I had attended a seminar about muscle healing for dancers. The presenter introduced us to the concept of trigger points. Once I found out about their existence, I started searching myself with my hands!
I would just slide the knuckles of my hand on my thigh, applying pressure against it, and I would feel a hard nodule that would cause me pain if I pressed on it. Even though I felt pain, pressing against those spots felt good.
Bingo! I had trigger points! Now I could work on them and maybe free myself from them!
Use this online Symptom Checker to know whether you have them!
What are some common types of pain caused by trigger points?
Since trigger points tend to refer pain to another location, this type of pain is often mistaken for a condition that does not really exist.
Trigger points may look like…
- Elbow tendonitis
- Calf pain
- Repetitive strain injury
Hard to believe that a toothache may come from a jaw trigger point, right? Well it’s true.
A toothache may be nothing more than a nearby muscle knot that causes pain!
If trigger points cause referred pain, how do I know where to look for them?
As a newbie start examining all the nearby regions that surround the place that makes you feel pain. Trust that if you do come across your trigger point, you will feel the hard knot, and it will feel painful when you press against it.
This is what I did with my thigh and I did discover them!
However, you are not a total newbie as I was. You know better than that. In the book The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, the authors show the most common trigger points and the areas that they refer pain to. With a trigger point index like that, you know where to look for right away!
How do I make trigger points go away?
Heal yourself by massaging the spots that cause you pain!
How often should I self-treat myself?
Rub the trigger point about 10 times each time. You can do this 2-3 times a day. Every time you do this you should feel immediate relief. If you don’t you may be doing something wrong…Remember to listen to your body. If something seems to make you worse, then stop doing it. As simple as that! Massage is supposed to bring you relief, not to make you feel worse!
How do I massage myself?
Once you have discovered the source of pain, you can…
1. Use a foam roller
A foam roller is simply a cylindrical piece of extruded hard-celled foam. They are available in different densities, some of them being harder than others. They also come out in different lengths.
Rub the suspicious trigger points spots on the foam roller. When foam rolling you have to use your own weight as a way to press against the tense areas. This is their greatest advantage, as you don’t have to strive extra to massage yourself. Your own weight provides enough pressure already!
I am actually using a foam roller at the end of every workout, as I feel much less stiffer and less tense once I am done! I honestly love foam rollers!
Keep in mind that foam rolling may be hard work for some people. You really need to balance yourself on them, in sometimes weird positions.
For example, a while ago I had a tense spot on my upper right thigh. I was in an almost split position, as my right leg was on the foam roller, and my left leg was to the back. This position was the only one that would allow me to target that specific area. If I was less flexible I could not do it.
However, don’t worry. You don’t need to be able to do splits to roll yourself 🙂 Foam rolling is for everyone.
Take a look at this video I found on youtube demonstrating some things you can do with foam rollers.
2. Use a tennis or massage ball
I do love foam rollers. They are great when addressing big muscle groups like your legs or back.
However, I also love massage balls. They are great when you are addressing small areas, like your feet or hands, or when you want to go into detail.
I recently bought one for $6 and I love-love-love it! I use it every day!
I have very tense feet and have found this trick that does wonders for me: when I am working, I place the ball under my feet, so I get to rub my feet all the time!
When I don’t rub my feet, I use the ball to massage my hands. It feels so good!
Btw, if you don’t have a massage ball, a tennis ball works just fine! 😉
In the video below, you will see a massage ball example, and a detail-work massage technique.
3. Use your hands
Use your knuckles, elbow, or thumbs to press against the tense trigger point areas. Rub each spot in only one direction, e.g., from top to bottom, or from right to left, and then repeat.
Alternatively, press against the trigger point for a few sec and then release.
I like the video below as it demonstrates how a trigger point in your upper back may cause you a headache!
Have you had experiences with trigger point therapy? I’d love to know about them! Please contact me and tell me about it 🙂
Crete photo credit: Wolfgang Staudt ; Foam-roller photo credit: rachelkramerbussel.com ; Massage ball photo credit: Jixar