When Relaxation Isn’t Enough

Relax­ation is great.  Every­one can ben­e­fit from deep, ther­a­peu­tic recharg­ing of mind and body.

Some peo­ple seek relax­ation by lying on ten­nis balls or a stiff foam roller.  Or in a yoga class.  With deep breath­ing.  Med­i­ta­tion.  Or with a guid­ed-imagery CD.

It’s great.  Deep relax­ation bakes the stress right out of your body.

But relax­ation alone is not enough.

Here’s what I mean.

Your mus­cles are under the con­trol of your nerves.  When a nerve sig­nal hits a mus­cle, the mus­cle twitch­es.  This con­trol sys­tem has worked well through­out mil­lions of years of evo­lu­tion.

The prob­lem is when you for­get to shut your nerve sig­nals off.  Then you’re “tense.”  Your mus­cles nev­er stop twitch­ing.  They con­tin­ue work­ing — even when you’re just sit­ting there drool­ing in front of the TV.

Expe­ri­enc­ing deep ther­a­peu­tic relax­ation qui­ets those sub­con­scious nerve sig­nals so your mus­cles get a rest.  That’s a good thing.


If your mus­cles have been over-worked or strained for an extend­ed peri­od, you have a deep­er prob­lem.  Your mus­cle fibers lose their nor­mal micro-archi­tec­ture.  Instead, the dif­fer­ent pro­tein fil­a­ments in your mus­cle bind togeth­er.

Once these mol­e­c­u­lar cross-bridges con­geal togeth­er, it doesn’t mat­ter how deeply you relax.  The knots are built into the fab­ric of your mus­cle.  Even if your brain stops sig­nal­ing your mus­cle to twitch it no longer mat­ters.

It’s too late.  You’ve got a trig­ger point.

Trigger Points – Everybody’s Got ʼEm

Trig­ger points are dys­func­tion­al zones in mus­cles where pro­tein chains have latched togeth­er tight­ly and can’t unlatch.

Vir­tu­al­ly every­one has trig­ger points – in tight shoul­der mus­cles, the low back, the jaw mus­cles, or almost any­where.  Most of the time, trig­ger points hov­er qui­et­ly in the back­ground, below your lev­el of aware­ness.  These low lev­el knots are called latent trig­ger points.

Even though a latent trig­ger point doesn’t cause pain, it still cre­ates hav­oc.

When you’ve got a trig­ger point, your mus­cle can’t con­tract effi­cient­ly.  And the mus­cle can’t stretch ful­ly, either.  That places the rest of your body’s mechan­i­cal sys­tem at risk.  And it adds to the load on your ner­vous sys­tem, too.

At the same time, a latent trig­ger point is big­ger trou­ble wait­ing to hap­pen.

When you’re extra fatigued, or over-stressed, a latent trig­ger point can emerge from the back­ground and cause pain.  Then you’ve got an active trig­ger point.

On one hand, trig­ger points aren’t major health dis­as­ters.  Nothing’s bro­ken.  Nothing’s dis­eased.  They’re not going to kill you.

On the oth­er hand, active trig­ger points can cause con­sid­er­able pain.   They con­tribute to headaches.  They put extra stress on oth­er joints and mus­cles.  They sap your ener­gy.  You don’t exer­cise as much.  Your sleep may be dis­turbed.  In many sub­tle ways, they wear away at your vital­i­ty and the bal­ance of your health.

Trig­ger points can be a big part of a down­ward health spi­ral.

The Most Sophisticated Trigger Point Treatment is Also the Simplest

Doc­tors have tried a lot of meth­ods to fix trig­ger points.

Anti-inflam­ma­to­ry drugs (NSAIDs) are pop­u­lar.  They can over-ride the pain.  But beyond that, they don’t do much, since trig­ger points aren’t inflamed.

Some doc­tors use coolant spray (eth­yl chlo­ride or methyl flu­o­rine) to “freeze” the trig­ger point area so it can unlatch.  Lido­caine injec­tions are also used.

But there’s a method that’s both the sim­plest and the most sophis­ti­cat­ed.

The Skilled Human Hand

An expe­ri­enced prac­ti­tion­er can com­bine dif­fer­ent forms of man­u­al ther­a­py to ease trig­ger points and rebal­ance your mus­cles.

The treat­ment goes beyond what you can achieve on your own with sim­ple relax­ation.  Man­u­al ther­a­py can ren­o­vate the archi­tec­tur­al design of your mus­cle fibers and reset the brain path­ways that con­trol mus­cle acti­va­tion and pain per­cep­tion.

In addi­tion to eras­ing the cen­tral prob­lem spot, the trig­ger point, an effec­tive hands-on treat­ment will address the fac­tors that con­stant­ly stir up your trig­ger points.

That means work­ing on neigh­bor­ing body areas, free­ing the motion of your joints, and address­ing habits of pos­ture and body use.

If your chi­ro­prac­tor uti­lizes a diver­si­ty of man­u­al ther­a­py meth­ods, you’re in good hands.

If you need help in find­ing a prac­ti­tion­er who’s able to address your needs in a com­pre­hen­sive way, per­haps I can help you locate some­one in your town.

Call me at 212–400-9663 or 609–497-1944.

Or email me at drlavine@askdrlavine.com


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

Foam roller to alle­vi­ate tight mus­cles

Paul Ingraham’s e-book on self-care for trig­ger points: Save Your­self from Trig­ger Points and Myofas­cial Pain Syn­drome!

Deep breath­ing ben­e­fits — real­i­ty or myth?






About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.

This entry was posted in Muscle Health and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.