Trigger Point Therapy

Dr. Janet Travell, a heart doctor to both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, developed Trigger Point Therapy. She developed a sharp pain in her chest and over some long period had some of the best diagnosticians in the country attempt to diagnose her pain. None could. One day, in a colleague’s office, she accidentally backed into a coat hook. The instant it poked her shoulder, the pain in her chest flared and she made the connection that the pain in her chest was caused by a ball of irritated tight muscle in her shoulder that had lost its ability to relax. The fact of the cause of the pain and the sensation of where the pain was felt being in different places is called ‘referred pain’. Referred pain is the classic symptom of Trigger Points.

When a segment of muscle becomes very tight, whether due to splinting (making immobile) to protect an injury or due to overt over-usage, the muscle becomes oxygen starved and the circulation fails to bring new chemicals to relax the muscle. The resultant cramping causes pain signals to be sent to the brain. The brain sends signals back to just relax and let the blood flow. Pain signals travel faster than relax signals and the muscle is not hearing the relax signal from the brain. When the muscle repeatedly fails to respond, the brain many times will simply stop listening to the pain signals because the brain has better things to do than argue with uncooperative knots of muscle. The pain is still there so the knot of irritated muscle tries other ways to get attention from the brain such as referring pain. These knots of very tight muscle are Trigger Points and when they are full-blown they cause pain on an ongoing basis. If left untreated, they tend to get worse. Ida B. Rolf said, "where you think it is, it ain’t". She was talking about referred pain and finding the Trigger Points. Pre-trigger points can be very painful to the touch and are easy to find and painful to treat. The good news is the very earliest symptoms can be detected by a skilled, sensitive therapist and stopped before they become painful to treat.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is in one of two states i.e. sympathetic (fight/flight/fear response) and parasympathetic (relaxation response). Trigger Points stimulate the sympathetic ANS response which include: increase in heart-rate, constriction of blood vessels (the reason pain raises the blood pressure), inhibit defecation, tighten anal spincter, dilate the pupils, stimulate "goose bumps", increase epinephrine (adrenaline), increase sweat production and decrease digestion juices. Depending on the extent and severity of Trigger Points and pre-trigger points, the effects result in what we call "stress". When the body can no longer tolerate the effects, the exhaustion phase begins. In long-term sympathetic stress, tension builds until the body basically wears out. Cardiovascular problems, upper respiratory and gastrointestinal problems tend to develop. The body begins to break down.

Trigger Point Therapy can stop this process. There will be discomfort involved but finding the source of and relieving the pain will activate the parasympathetic system allowing the body to heal and restore homeostasis or balance.