Welcome back to the Zan Zen blog! This week we will be answering the question, “what is trigger point work and why does it matter?”

The Zan Zen Studio offers a class specifically designed for this type of work, called “Triggered”. Trigger points are specific areas of the body that are considered “hyperirritable” or sensitive to pain. These are the areas located within muscle fibers that are associated with aching or stiffness. By applying pressure to these areas, we are helping or more so urging the muscle return to its relaxed state. 

The way I like to think of these trigger points, more commonly referred to as knots, is by using my fingers as a visual. Put both hands in front of you, palms facing in toward your face, fingertips touching. Your fingers currently represent muscle fibers in a relaxed state, no fingers overlapping. Then separate your fingers and slide your hands inward so all your fingers are stacked on top of eachother, each fingertip touching or just about touching the webbing of your opposite hand’s fingers. This represents a muscle in full contraction, as muscle fibers slide over one another to form a shorter muscle that can then generate more force. However, these fibers do not always return back to their full relaxed state. This is what we feel as a “knot” in our muscles. 

To tell these fibers to fall back into place, we apply pressure to the area. Often getting a massage is the most common way to relive this tension, but there are cheaper, more accessible ways to achieve some relief. Trigger point release, foam rolling, or even new massage guns can be just as effective. All of these have a similar effect in what is called autogenic inhibition. The definition of this process (bare with me) is a decrease in the excitability of a contracting or stretched muscle that has been ascribed to the increased inhibitory input from Golgi tendon organs within the same muscle. Now what in the world does all of that mean? In more basic terms, Golgi tendon organs are vital, as they are what tell a muscle to relax if it cannot sustain a force or stretch. For example, you’re doing bicep curls and you’re nearing fatigue. On your last rep, you make it halfway and then your arms “give out.” Your golgi tendon organs are responsible for your biceps relaxing. Without them, we would continue working past what our muscles may be able to sustain, and this would eventually result in a tear. This same idea is seen in stretching. When the muscle feels that it is at its limit, the golgi tendon organs tell the muscle to relax so it won’t tear. 

Now how does this relate to trigger point techniques and foam rolling? By applying pressure to our muscles, we are communicating the same message to the golgi tendon organs. They feel an excess of force within the muscle, and the reaction is muscle relaxation.

In areas of our body that are under constant tension such as our neck, low back, legs, etc., you can imagine how many knots we may have. This is just due to the fact that our bodies are very smart and efficient. Knowing that you will be sitting looking down at a keyboard every day at work, the neck has no reason to relax. These repetitive movements and postures teach our muscles that we need them in action more than we need them relaxed.  So these muscles, just trying to please us, form knots, as this is more efficient than constantly switching between a contracted and relaxed muscle. These overworked areas need a reminder sometimes that we do, in fact, want them to relax. That is where foam rolling and trigger point work becomes so important. Unless we completely stop a specific movement or posture, these muscles will never get the signal they need to relax. 

All that being said, EVERYONE has a reason to learn trigger point techniques. If you find yourself with an ache or pain, please do your body a favor and come try triggered on Mondays at 6pm! You will learn all you need to find some relief in any tight or painful areas! 

Have a wonderful week, and don’t forget to breathe!

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