Self Trigger Point Therapy: How to Release Trigger Points

There are many different methods that have been done over the years to release trigger points in the body. These methods include injections, spraying the skin with refrigerant and then stretching the frozen tissue, and massage therapy. Of all the options, massage tends to be the safest, most effective form of treatment. In the event of injections, there can be additional scarring caused by the injection itself.

When releasing a trigger point on yourself, safety must be kept in mind. Many trigger points can be released with the use of a tool, such as a theracane, or even a baseball or golf ball.

How Does Trigger Point Release Work?

As discussed in a previous post, trigger points are caused by a contracture within muscular tissues. To release a trigger point, we must overload the sensory nerve endings in the area, forcing the muscle to release and relax. Once the muscle is relaxed, it must be stretched to reset the muscle fiber length.

Warming up the Area

When releasing a trigger point, whether being done at home or by your massage therapist, it is important to warm the area up first to bring in fresh blood supply. Warming up the area can be done a variety of ways:

  • Swedish Massage: apply a small amount of massage lotion or massage oil to the area. Using gentle, fluid strokes, massage the area that needs to be worked on for a few minutes or until you notice the skin become warm to the touch.
  • Hydrotherapy: if you have a heating pad or warm compress, this can be left on the area to be worked for five to fifteen minutes prior to releasing the muscle.
  • TENS Unit: TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) Units are now available over the counter in stores that have pharmacies. The unit can be applied directly to the area that has the trigger point for five to fifteen minutes before releasing the trigger point.
Releasing the Trigger Point

Once you have located the trigger point on yourself and have warmed up the area, you can choose from two main methods of trigger point release.

The first method is referred to as ischemic pressure. Apply direct pressure to the trigger point at a tolerable level. On a pain scale of zero to ten with zero being no pain at all, you should not go above a six on the pain scale. Applying too much pressure can actually worsen the trigger point and cause other muscles in the body to become overly tight.

After you have applied the pressure, start to breathe deeply into your stomach. Releasing the trigger point may take several minutes and you may experience referral pain during this time. Continue breathing as the contracted muscle tissue starts to relax. Keep the pressure applied until you no longer feel any pain and any potential referral pain has gone away.

The second method by which a trigger point can be released is to apply deep pressure massage through the area that is tense. Make sure to use some type of massage lotion or massage oil with this technique. Working in the direction of the muscle fibers, apply pressure into the tissue about one inch before the trigger point. At a rate of one inch for every three seconds, press through the trigger point and end one inch past the end of the knotted fibers. Similar to using ischemic pressure, you do not want to go above a six out of ten on the pain scale and you may feel referred pain from the trigger point. Repeat this motion as many times as necessary until the pain and referral pain has gone away entirely.

Once the trigger point is released, be sure to stretch the muscle to reset it to its proper length.




Trigger Point Tools


Corinne D. Bracko-Douglas, CMT, LMT, CKTP is the owner of Dochas Clinical Massage Therapy based out of Columbia, MO. She received her diploma in Clinical Massage Therapy from The Soma Institute in Chicago, IL in 2004. She enjoys teaching others about how to live a healthy lifestyle and still works one on one with clients out of her private clinic. When not working as a therapist she can be found enjoying trail hikes with her wonderful husband, Lee, and their adorable doggos, Shadow and Koda, or trying out fun new workouts to expand her knowledge of the human body and how it functions.

The advice given in these articles is not meant to diagnose. Please always consult with a health care provider before performing any of the techniques described upon yourself.

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