Finding a good manual therapist can take hours and lots of money. Learning the basics of trigger point therapy is a great low-cost, high-impact tool you can use anywhere. After learning a lot of the benefits of the foam roller and trigger point ball from people like Stacy Barrows, this article is a practical “how to” get the most out of your foam roller and trigger point ball at home.
What is a trigger point?
“Trigger points are discrete, focal, hyperirritable spots located in a taut band of skeletal muscle. They produce pain locally and in a referred pattern and often accompany chronic musculoskeletal disorders”AFP
Simply put, they’re spots in our muscles that become aggravated by acute or repetitive stress. We also refer to them as “knots” in our muscles.
How do you release a trigger point?
Myofascial dry needling is a common trigger point therapy method but requires an adequately qualified professional to administer the treatment. So what are some self-myofascial release techniques you can do yourself?
What is trigger point massage?
Trigger point massage can be done by hand or using tools to release a trigger point. It can be administered by a massage or physical therapist. The simplest way is to find the trigger point or knot in the muscle and apply pressure for 2-3 minutes. This allows the muscle to relax and will relieve tension if applied correctly. Adding small movements such as circular or back and forth movements will also go a long way.
Be sure not to add too much pressure or push into pain, this will cause you to tighten up or protect the area. If you also know the direction of the muscle fibre you can focus on rubbing along the muscle as you are trying “elongate or extend” the muscle itself.
Trigger point massage tools
As we mentioned before using trigger point release tools like needles requires the skills of a trained professional so finding tools you can use at home for a low cost is a great way to get started. For most releases you can get away with just a:
- Trigger point massage ball
- Foam Roller
Tools like massage guns, voodoo floss and canes are great additions but to be honest, you don’t really need them. With the average cost of a high-quality massage gun being upwards of $200 it usually doesn’t meet the needs of the average home gym.
11 essential trigger point massage releases
Neck Release – “text neck” is an all too common condition today. We carry so much tension in our necks from sitting, stress and using our mobile devices it makes perfect sense to release those trigger points in the neck.
Latissimus Dorsi – We associate big lats with strong and powerful human beings that can lift and carry lots of weight or do a lot of pull-ups, but did you also know they are internal rotators of the shoulder? These trigger points can be partly responsible or the victims of poor posture as they naturally pull your shoulders forward.
Pectorals – If we spend all day on a computer chances are we are in a flexion position. When we also add activities like bench press into the mix (looking at you gentlemen) we can often have weak rotator cuffs, horrible posture and weakened posterior chains. Releasing those tight pec trigger points goes a long way to getting in the right position.
Trapezius & Thoracic – Our posterior chain is often considered the poor stepchild of the anterior chain. Tides are slowly changing with the trends of booty training and the plethora of fitness “influencers” selling their online programs but we often forget about our shoulders and particularly how thoracic mobility affects our ability to push, pull and go overhead. The traps and thoracic trigger points are put together as you can use a single trigger point ball to release both points. If you’re a desk-bound athlete these MUST be in your arsenal.
Foot – High heels, poorly fitting shoes and runners all have one thing in common, they usually don’t pay much attention or love to the bottom of your feet. If you’re getting some km’s in or work in one of those jobs that require dress shoes getting the blood flowing through the bottom of your feet helps promote better ankle mobility and proprioception through the floor and therefore will increase stability and performance.
Anterior Tibialis & Calf – The muscles of the lower leg often carry a lot of tension, whether it’s from poor shoe selection, ankle mobility or knee issues they often wind up bearing the brunt of our injuries and poor choices. Just like the foot release, be sure to release these essential trigger points if you run or intend on doing any field sports.
Quadricep & ITB – Pretty straightforward. Your quads often have to battle hours of sitting to then go and perform hundreds of reps in a workout. Quite often it can also be the lateral (ITB & Vastus Lateralis) or medial (Vastus Medialis) that presents as tight, painful or a likely culprit for knee pain.
Glute & Lateral Hip – Your power muscles! If we spend all day on our gluten they like to go missing when we need them though. Sitting kills our glutes and is generally the devil. Focusing on the lateral hip aspect will also reduce tension for long days at the desk.
Psoas – We spend an awful lot of time in hip flexion, this can often leave our iliopsoas tight. Strong hip flexors are essential for any form of field sport or running and if you’re favourite pastime after work is crashing on the couch only after spending all day at the desk you might want to take a look here. Getting into extension by releasing your psoas and focusing on glute activation before jumping into dynamic efforts is a must-do for anyone.
Quadratus Lumborum (QL) – Our lower back (lumbar) is usually blamed and called weak when we suffer from lower back pain. This usually starts as tension in the lower back as we are constantly finding ourselves in flexion. Lower back pain however is usually brought on by tight hips, weak anterior chain (core/trunk stability) or too much time in poor sedentary positions. The poor lower back is only trying to keep you upright.
Hamstring – The number of people that I see trying to get back to activities like running without focusing on their hamstrings is staggering. Once again if we sit, our hamstrings are naturally in a shortened position and just like our glutes they can become lazy or dormant when they are not used. Hit this trigger point release to lengthen and then strengthen before getting back to dynamic activity.
So there you have it, 11 areas you can focus on for at-home trigger point therapy. Master the basics, do them devilishly well and your body will thank you for it. Once you’ve mastered this, check out the shop to take it to the next level.