If you’ve been following our guides to healing patella maltracking, particularly our foam rolling articles, you should already be aware of trigger points. These are the knots that are created when your muscles are overworked. They tighten your muscles and can cause referred pain, and can be treated with foam rolling or other forms of massage – including the more intense use of PVC piping, broomsticks, or localised lacrosse balls. These methods are excellent ways of removing knots from the muscles, but if you rely on them too much you are left dealing with the symptoms of the problem and not the cause.
What’s the best way to prevent future trigger points?
To improve your overall fitness and stop future knots from developing in your muscles, strengthening those muscles is the best form of defence. Here’s why:
Imagine a weak muscle, and the amount of strength it can exert over the course of an action. For the sake of example, let’s say the muscle is capable of comfortably exerting 10 arbitrary units of strength (AUS). When, in everyday life, you are faced with a challenge that requires more strength than the muscle can comfortably endure, the muscle will develop a trigger point. Perhaps you slip on some ice and have to suddenly stabilise the body, requiring 15 units of strength from that weak muscle capable of only 10 AUS – this will cause knots to develop.
If you train your muscles, using proper techniques, you can prepare yourself, over time, to cope with those unexpected movements that require higher exertions of strength. This can be done in smaller increments which will do much less harm – training that muscle to improve from 10 AUS to 11 AUS in one session, then to 12 AUS in the next session. This gradual, safe increase will allow the muscle to eventually reach more than 15 AUS, up to 20 even, so that when an action like slipping on the ice occurs you can, as it were, take it in your stride. Indeed, whatever challenge the weak muscle might have faced, and developed knots from, by strengthening yourself to surpass these everyday challenges you prevent future trigger points.
Other causes of trigger points
Sudden movements are not the only cause of trigger points. Overuse of sustained strength (using more units of strength in a day, for instance, than you can endure) can also cause trigger points – and can also be addressed with strength training.
Bad posture can cause trigger points too. Sitting at a desk for the better part of a day could cause knots to form when the body is awkwardly positioned. Strength training helps here, too – when you train to use proper body movements correctly, your overall posture will improve. Not only will you avoid the knots of overexertion, you will avoid the knots of bad body position at rest.
Soft tissue massage is essential, and you’ll always have trigger points to deal with somewhere (especially as you continue to push yourself to higher levels of strength), so don’t neglect the effectiveness of using tools like foam rollers. However, training your muscles in proper movement patterns will give you the most positive results in the long run, if you want to prevent the knots from coming back. Use this combination of massage and training wisely, if you want to tackle trigger points head on.