If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, it’s likely that your neck and upper back get sore from time to time. If fact, if you’re like most people, you have muscle knots in these areas, too. A muscle knot is a thickening in the muscle where the fibers have begun to adhere to each other. These knots, especially when they’re painful are also called trigger points, and while they most frequently occur in your upper back and neck, they can also occur in almost any muscle in your body. If left untreated over time, these points can develop into scar tissue deep within the muscle.
Often muscle knots don’t cause you any pain or symptoms, however for many people, they become painful trigger points that can limit your activities or become a focal point for painful headaches. In fact, in Chinese medicine, these spots are called Ah Shi points, which loosely translate to “Yes! That’s the place!” If you’ve ever poked around your sore back or neck until you found a spot that hurts the most, but also feels better when you press it really hard, that’s an Ashi or trigger point.
These points can occur for a number of reasons. One of the most common is from poor posture, often from long hours sitting in front of a computer at a desk or driving. They can also be caused by trauma, overuse injuries, poor body mechanics, or even working out.
Despite being really painful, trigger points aren’t life-threatening and often don’t get much attention in Western medicine. However, practitioners of Chinese medicine have an effective way to release these points, with a therapy called trigger point acupuncture. In fact, Chinese medicine has a long history of treating muscle knots, which are thought of as stagnant areas where circulation, energy and movement are hindered. Treating trigger points with acupuncture involves inserting an acupuncture needle into the painful knot until the muscle releases or twitches, which usually causes almost instant pain relief. Ah Shi points direct your practitioner to exactly the right spot to place needles during an acupuncture session. And while you may be thinking that it sounds painful to place a needle into an already tender spot, it actually doesn’t produce more pain and is quite effective in relieving the achiness and helps loosen up the muscle tissue. After the needle or needles have been inserted, you may rest with them in place for 20 to 30 minutes, which is not only effective, but also incredibly relaxing! For optimal results, your trigger point acupuncture session may be combined with cold laser therapy or shockwave therapy. Cold laser therapy involves treatment with low-level lasers that gently work deep within the tissue to stimulate healing at the cellular level. Shockwave therapy is a sound wave used to break up adhesions and correct muscle function.
While the most common site of trigger points is in your upper back, neck and shoulders, they may also occur and be effectively treated for:
- TMJ pain
- Elbow pain
- Low back pain
- Knee pain
- Foot pain and plantar fasciitis
While most people have muscle knots, not all of these points create problems. Basically, if you have a knot or a trigger point that’s painful, causes headaches or is a reason that you limit your activities, it’s time to give it some attention. In Vancouver, the practitioners at BodaHealth, are experienced in helping patients relieve the pain and loss of function associated with trigger points and muscle knots. If you suffer from painful trigger points, call us today to find out more about how we can help relieve your pain.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.