Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Trigger Points are Toxic!

I have always explained myofascial trigger points as areas of stagnant, toxic, acidic tissue, mostly because that is what I was told in school, and it just made sense that if your tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen, and being used incorrectly or simply too much, then inflammation and metabolic toxins will build up, all of which trigger pain receptors to “red flag” the area. Well, I am learning that the “because they said so” scientific method just doesn’t cut it. But it turns out there is actually some research confirming this theory!

Trigger points are painful spots in muscles that can refer pain into other areas, cause your muscles to feel weak and tired, and affect range of motion, and often mimic other conditions, therefore getting misdiagnosed more often than not. They affect millions of people, can be very debilitating, and yet have been ignored and misunderstood by the medical community for far too long.

New research is therefore both exciting and imperative.

There has been a theory for many years that trigger points are perpetuated via a feedback loop, where tight muscle tissue becomes tighter and unhealthier, as it uses oxygen and deposits metabolic byproducts produced during use. This excess tightness impedes blood flow into the area, leading to insufficient oxygen supply and further chemical buildup (metabolic, inflammatory and immune), causing pain and further muscle tightening, and yet more byproducts, and so the cycle continues.

A recent study by a group of scientists (1) has now shown that there are indeed large amounts of inflammatory and immune chemicals in tissues adjacent to active trigger points, as compared to latent trigger point and normal muscle tissue. This helps validate the feedback theory.

I believe this also helps to validate massage therapy as a treatment for trigger points (besides the unscientific fact that it just works)! If you can break this feedback loop somewhere along the line, you should be able to relax the trigger point. If you can get more oxygen into the area, relax the tight muscles, and mobilize the area, tissue health will improve, and the feedback loop could be disrupted. Hmm, sounds like a great theory for a research study!

(1) Biochemicals Associated With Pain and Inflammation are Elevated in Sites Near to and Remote From Active Myofascial Trigger Points
Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Volume 89, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 16-23
Jay P. Shah, Jerome V. Danoff, Mehul J. Desai, Sagar Parikh, Lynn Y. Nakamura, Terry M. Phillips, Lynn H. Gerber