Doing physical activity without the right preparation beforehand, poor posture, repeating bad movements, sitting in front of the computer, being bent over an ironing board for many hours and even a sedentary life are all things that involve us being in the same position for a long time and not giving our muscles the possibility to stretch or relax. All of these activities can cause tension to accumulate, muscles to become weak and movements to become difficult, ending in actual muscle dysfunction which results in a difficulty to do simple things, such as lengthen or lift the arms.
A deep tissue massage can provide very good results though, relieving any problems and improving mobility. Through finger pressure on the so-called trigger points, where tension accumulates, the patient will at first feel some discomfort but then, after a few sessions, these ‘knots’ will become looser and movements will be more fluid and any pain will go away. As well as undergoing a number of massages though, it is important to change the habits that caused the problem, correcting poor posture and avoiding doing repetitive movements too often.
What is a trigger point?
In Chinese acupuncture, which trigger point massages derive from, the human body is full of knots that are energetically active, kind of like switches that manage the functions of the whole body. By treating these knots, acupuncture changes the body’s equilibrium in a positive and therapeutic way, and the skin in the energetically active areas is also stimulated, which obviously change from person to person. Trigger points are localised areas that are extremely irritable, and they are located in a taut band of muscle tissue. Touching them, even lightly, can be painful and uncomfortable. Trigger points can appear anywhere in the body, but a trigger point massage only treats the spine, that is, from the head to the sacroiliac area (even down to the buttocks).
Trigger points can be concealed, and in this case they only emerge if touched and depending on the discomfort they cause, or they can be so-called ‘active’ points when they cause shooting pains or cause physical pain. Another example of how they can affect a person is making respiration difficult, making the person feel out of breath as well as experiencing stabbing feelings and having a shoulder contracture. This is an example of an active trigger point in the serratus posterior superior muscle, called the inspiratory muscle precisely because it lifts the rib cage when contracted. Another area which may be significantly painful is the lumbar-sacral area, which can easily become rigid because of active trigger points if the individual stands up or bends over a lot.
THE SESSION: STEP BY STEP
A trigger point massage lasts for an hour, or just over, and involves an initial assessment of the patient in a dimly lit room with gentle background music, similar to the music used for meditation. After lying down on the massage bed and before treatment begins, the masseuse must find out about the patient’s daily habits, working activities, ask if he/she has experienced any traumatic events recently, find out if the patient suffers from any significant illnesses and if he/she experiences any discomfort so as to try and understand what the trigger factors are. If the dysfunctions are related to scoliosis, hernias, disc problems or even inflammation of the spine, the massage should not be carried out. If, on the other hand, it is ok to proceed, treatment begins with a delicate massage that involves gently tapping the spine and relaxation or effleurage movements performed to diagnose the presence of any trigger points which appear as knots, bunches and hard and rigid masses within muscle areas.
After the relaxation movements have been carried out on the spine, circular pressure movements are performed with the fingertips on the head, neck, shoulder blades, shoulders, trapezium and, finally, the sacroiliac zone, and even a drop of massage oil can be used. Then, continual pumping movements are carried out on the neck, shoulder blades, arms and tricep and bicep muscles by rapidly applying pressure with the palms of the hands on the skin, as if the masseuse’s hand is trying to suck down on the skin.
The therapist should concentrate on the paravertebral muscles, the muscles that are close to the spine, by putting the hands in various positions and then closing the hand and using the knuckles to apply gentle pressure so as to fully relax the spine.
Starting once again from the head, the fingertips are used to apply more intense pressure. With the thumbs, the trigger points are pressed down, then released and this is followed by circular and peeling movements (as if wiping the skin). The massage is then continued from the shoulder blade area down towards the trapezium and paravertebral muscles. In general, the massage begins on the upper body, down to the lower body and even as far as the gluteus maximus. This massage is perfect for releasing accumulations of tension and treating present trigger points.
A few minutes of gentle effleurage conclude this massage, and then the patient is left to relax on the massage bed. A hot drink can help to enhance the feeling of relaxation and well-being.
Why it is good for you
A trigger point massage is recommended for all phlogistic situations that cause tension and joint pain and in the presence of a minor difficulty with movements, such as being slightly rigid, hypersensitive and having weak muscles. A massage helps to restore correct functioning, making the body more flexible and creating an overall feeling of well-being. A trigger point massage must be considered to be an ‘additional treatment’ that helps make muscles more active by restoring correct posture and removing tension.
In order to achieve significant results, the patient should undergo a cycle of at least 10 sessions, however benefits can already be felt after the first few massages, in terms of mobility and agility. However, if the patient does not change the habits that caused these trigger points to appear, the benefits obtained from the massages will disappear quite quickly.
Lastly, it must be said that a trigger point massage is linked to the Oriental holistic conception and Ayurvedic medicine, therefore accumulated tension in the body is closely related to the state of one’s soul, not just postural errors. According to the Ayurvedic tradition, for example, if the contracted points are found in the cervical zone it is because there are problems with self-evaluation of the patient him/herself; rigidity in the head represents worries related to self-image and person and self-realisation; as far as the shoulder and central zones are concerned, contractions occur here when the patient is facing a crossroads, that is, a hard choice must be made; the dorsal zone, on the other hand, mirrors the emotional life of the child, and therefore there may be trigger points that were caused by unresolved problems, such as a fear of the dark, fire or poor relationships with parents; lastly, the lower back is closely related to the sexual sphere and trigger points here represent a poor quality relationship with the respective partner.