Trigger Point Therapy Offers Pain Relief

Some patients express surprise that just one treatment offers relief

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Whether it’s a frozen joint or localized pain, trigger point therapy from a licensed massage therapist can help.

James Ligammare, licensed massage therapist and owner of Healing Hands Massage Therapy in Niagara Falls, said that many patients come to him with complaints such as neck, shoulder and low back pain, often from repetitive motion injuries.

“Sometimes they’ll release fairly quickly,” Ligammare said. “It depends upon how bad it is and the area affected.”

For some, it takes 30 to 60 seconds; other times, it can take five minutes.

He uses hot and cold therapy with stretching to increase the range of motion and increase blood flow to the area.

Some patients express surprise that just one treatment offers relief. For others, especially those who have endured a long-term issue, may take multiple treatments and need monthly “maintenance.”

Ligammare assigns “homework” for them to do between visits, such as stretches and using foam rollers to apply pressure. Once they begin feeling good, they can reduce the frequency to a biweekly or monthly session. They can come in if something arises sooner.

He advises patients to hydrate well after treatment. They should also improve the healing process by alternating application of ice and heat to reduce any inflammation and to increase circulation.

Some trigger points transfer pain between a series of trigger points. Cues from the patient can help the LMT to follow the path of the trigger points.

Emily Ball, in private practice in Buffalo and founder of the HEAT Center, said that trigger points are “places of concentrated tension and the muscle fibers in this area are getting a signal from the nervous system, saying, ‘Go.’ They’re ready for action and it’s a communication problem. They did not get the signal to relax.”

She views trigger point therapy as a means of resetting the nervous system signal.

“We can hit all the trigger points we want, but if they continue repetitive stress behaviors, then we have to keep doing it all over,” Ball said.

Emotional and physical stressors can contribute to trigger points. That is why she assigns patients with movements to help them stretch and relax those areas, such as rolling the shoulders a few times twice a day for a trigger point in that area.

As responsive as some patients are to the therapy, Ball advises them that it’s not a panacea for pain. Physical therapy, acupuncture and/or psychotherapy may be needed. Poor posture or movement while performing everyday tasks like texting, driving and typing can cause trigger point therapy.

“When receiving trigger point therapy, breathing is very important,” Ball said. “Slowly, thoroughly and evenly. It gives the body an opportunity to allow the work to happen. Try to discern between pain and intense sensation. Intense sensation rides that edge of pain. You might be sore for a day. Pain, you might be sore for a week. A lot of people think massage should be painful. It can be intense sensation-wise.”

It can also take therapists some time to get to the root of the issue. Rosie Klauk, licensed massage therapist with Essential Massage Therapy in Tonawanda, can take up to two hours in a session.
“If it’s a chronic condition and it’s been around a while, they’ve had it for a while and it takes a while to address,” she said.

The modality is not like receiving an injection or swallowing a pill for pain. But with sufficient sessions and following the therapist’s directions for stretching and posture, many patients can find lasting relief.

Klauk said that trigger point therapy still has many unanswered questions. She advises people to not trust therapists who say, “I can fix your problem guaranteed” because so many factors are involved with pain relief.

“It’s not a magic wand, but a tool,” Klauk said. “There’s more of a need for massage therapy than being treated as a luxury item.”