Trigger point therapy

Deep tissue massage is effective – what does it actually do?

Katie Breeze, one of our Sports Injury Therapists and Deep Tissue Massage Therapists answers the ‘what does massage do? question.

“Well, I like the analogy of a traffic jam to illustrate the point.  If the muscle fibres are too densely packed (like cars on the M5 southbound on Bank Holiday Friday) your blood can’t circulate.  So, red blood cells, carrying oxygen, can’t get to their destination.  Plasma, carrying chemical messages and nutrients to the muscle also can’t get to its destination (the holiday cottage in Devon in our example!).  There will be gridlock.

Paracelsus congestion

I bet he looked nothing like this…

Paracelsus, a famous alchemist, is known to have said that “there is but one disease, and its name is congestion”. So, this congestion leads to:

  • dehydration
  • a loss of cellular exchange
  • your muscles not getting the fuel they need
  • the waste products of respiration not being removed.

Deep tissue massage techniques aim to contact these muscle fibres and loosen them.  This reduces congestion and makes cellular exchange function optimally.

Is deep tissue massage painful?

The term ‘pain’ is also used a great deal in the treatment room.  However, its meaning is often obscure, being so subjective.  Perceived pain levels differ between individuals depending on their constitution, age, diet, stress levels, lifestyle and sporting habits… and the list could go on.  So, the type of pain in a massage, is the type that feels ‘releasing, pulling, stretching or opening’.  Not ‘pinching, bruising, pricking or stitching’.  A good sign that treatment is working is to feel a ‘pain referral’ from the area being worked on.  This is described by many as a sort of numbing, or dull spreading feeling, radiating from the point at which pressure is being applied.

Pain for a massage therapist is a signpost for when there is disorder within the body’s tissues.  We see pain as presenting an opportunity to reconfigure tissues that are not functioning so well.  So it is best not to block the sensation of pain with drugs.  If the senses are dulled by strong painkillers, it will be harder to gauge the correct pressure to be used.  This massage allows the muscle’s nerve fibres to act, allowing muscle lengthening and restoring function.  That is why a massage can feel more beneficial when it focuses on those tender knots.  And, yes, this might make you want to leap off the couch.  These knots or trigger points are “a highly irritable spot of exquisite tenderness in a nodule in a palpable taut band of (skeletal) muscle’.  And that description that certainly rings true in my experience!

Trigger point chartTrigger points

So why does the body create trigger points?  We like to think of them as ‘vessels’ that can hold the stress of muscular imbalance.  This makes them identifiable and treatable with deep tissue massage.  These trigger points have been comprehensively ‘mapped’ (both by Acupuncturists and Sports Injury Therapists, with as much as 70% of them found to be concurrent).  As an example, here’s a link to one in your Piriformis muscle.  The results of treatment are reliably reproduced throughout patients with differing lifestyles and underlying causes for their problems.  Your body develops recognizable patterns that allows our treatment to be effective in terms of reducing pain levels.

Essentially, the body is a self-healing organism.  Creating trigger points is it’s attempt of coping with the stresses and strains we put on our bodies when we adopt unsuitable postures for long periods of time.  It is often a combination of too little exercise (sedentary occupation) with bouts of too much (over-exercising), to compensate for sitting down all day.  This leads to soft tissue problems, fatigue and the formation of trigger points.

Do any of you have any strange symptoms that may be caused by a trigger point referred pain – the most odd I’ve had so far has been the insects on the skin feeling?


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