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(Note: This article is a part of our 31-day series, “31 Days to a Whole Body Makeover“.)
I would be the first to tell you that when it comes to pain relief, nothing compares to a professional massage. Human hands are far superior to any massage tool out there. However, I also know that it is hard to find the time and money for regular massage therapy sessions.
Here are the tools I recommend using at home to find pain relief when you just can’t get around to scheduling a massage.
What are Trigger Points, aka “Knots”, and How Do We Heal Them?
In 1997, I was in massage therapy school. There was a fellow student in the class, a gentleman named Clair Davies, who was quite elderly. He had spent his lifetime tuning pianos for a living. I don’t recall what exactly inspired him to retire from pianos and travel from Kentucky to Salt Lake City, UT for massage therapy school, but I’m glad he did. During the nine months we were in the same program together, Clair talked all the time about developing his own modality. While we were all busy trying to master the modalities we were already being taught, he was levels beyond, working every day to develop his self-massage therapy: trigger point therapy you can perform on yourself. He was constantly finding ways to reach the knots in his back with just the right amount of leverage to be able to apply the pressure needed to heal his pain.
We knew he was writing a book, but imagine my surprise nonetheless when shortly after graduation, I received in the mail a package containing a copy of the manuscript of his book! What a generous gift! As I write this, I am so pleased that Clair’s book, “The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook” is still number one in the Acupressure/Acupuncture category at Amazon! Clair has since passed away, but his legacy lives on!
In his book, Clair shows you how to locate and work out those “knots”, also known as trigger points.
Trigger points are damaged muscular tissue that has been deprived of oxygen circulation, thus allowing waste products (eg lactic acid) gather and stick in those fibers preventing healing.
Trigger points very often also refer pain to other areas of the body. We often mistake pain like severe headaches for something other than what it might really be: trigger points in the tiny suboccipital muscles that connect from the base of our skull to our neck. Or how many misdiagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome cases were actually caused by trigger points located in the pec minor, which lies just behind the pectorial muscle? Hint: A LOT.
Holding firm pressure on a trigger point cuts off the blood supply and when you take the pressure off, it is flooded with blood that allows the waste to be picked back up into the bloodstream. To illustrate, imagine a hose. If you kink the hose, it cuts off the flow of water, right? Well, what happens when you unkink the hose? The water bursts out of the hose from the pressure of having just been kinked. So it goes with pressing onto a trigger point; you deprive the muscle of the blood flow, then suddenly let it flood back to wash away the crud that has been trapped within. As a massage therapist, you learn quickly to distinguish the difference in the way a knot feels compared to normal, healthy muscle tissue. I love pressing into someone’s trigger points with my fingertips, knuckles or elbows and feeling the muscle fibers give ever so slowly to the pressure. It’s pretty awesome. Years of build-up disintegrating right beneath my fingers!
Should Pressing On a Knot Feel Painful?
Trigger point therapy, or use of any of the tools I am about to show you, should feel intense, but never painful. There is a fine line between intense and painful, but if it is truly painful, as in a sharp pain that might hurt you, lighten up the pressure. You might cause more injury. But if it’s intense? Great. That’s how you know you’re on the right spot! If you are directly on a trigger point, it should feel intense… almost, but not quite, painful.
Recommended Tools to Massage Away Knots / Trigger Points:
The Body Back Buddy Self-Massage Tool is my personal favorite, because you can so easily access those hard to reach spots and best control the pressure. You just hook it in to the spot where you need it, then give a little pull until you get the pressure you need. So easy.
Foam Rollers are excellent for large areas of soreness. This is what I use after working out, or if I’m not feeling so limber after warming up for a workout, especially in my quads. But for post-workout soreness, this is a MUST have. You use your bodyweight to roll over the areas that are sore.
A spiky acupressure / massage ball is another must-have tool that I keep in my home. This is especially important for foot pain and issues such as plantar fascitis. I feel I’m really getting into the muscle fibers with the spikes, and they feel sooooo gooooood.
You can also use this to target trigger points using your body weight. This is something you can keep in your purse and break out at work. You can use it on the floor, or while standing up, lean your back onto the wall, then position it behind your back.
KT Tape is essential for anyone with post-workout soreness, but you don’t have to be an athlete to tape painful joints. This product is used by Olympians to tape their injuries, and I have used it for myself when I’ve had plantar fascitis and shin splints from running. My weightlifting coach introduced me to these, and I put it on at night and by morning, I’m all healed up. It doesn’t always work that quickly, but at most, a few days. They are designed to make sure your joints are in the correct position for optimal kinesiology.
And the last thing in my own personal self-massage arsenal that I use at home on myself is this incredible product, Biofreeze. I have been using Biofreeze since massage school in the late 1990’s. It is both heating and cooling, so it relaxes your muscle while bringing in more circulation to clear out the crud causing you pain. It’s pretty incredible!
What tools do you use at home? Are there any that you would add to my list? Are there any fellow massage therapists out there who have any suggestions? Please let me know in the comments below!