Physical trauma to our body often causes the affected area to go into protection mode in an effort to reduce the chance of further injury. One such protection mechanism sees muscles around the area lock in a contracted position so as to reduce range of motion.
The target muscle receives the instruction to contract from the central nervous system via its innervating motor neuron. On the short term, this can be helpful. Often this mechanism forgets to shut off long after the main trauma is healed, causing chronic pain and lack of mobility: a protracted contraction of sorts.
In this contraction mode, one can feel a hard, eraser-like tissue under the finger in a specific area of any particular muscle. This induration in the myofascial sheath is what is termed by some the trigger-point of the muscle; the point where the muscle is ‘triggered’ to contract. (By contrast, in Meridian Therapy, as discussed in Part 3, a palpable trigger-point would be considered Jitsu, or Excess in the Channel.) Extended heavy pressure over a trigger point causes anoxia by stopping blood flow and consequently oxygen to the area, shutting off the signal to contract from the central nervous system, relaxing the trigger point and muscle.
The same effect can be elicited arguably much more efficiently by a well inserted filiform needle.
This is the basis behind trigger-point therapy. It is also the thinking behind IMS – Intra-Muscular Stimulation, adopted recently by many health professionals other than Acupuncturists. It has become widely understood as being more effective to release trigger-points with the precision of a needle than it is to do the same with a finger, an elbow, or a knee.
Trigger point needling is based on the mechanistic view of how the body works at a purely musculoskeletal level. Although I always have these methods in the back of my mind, I’ve found that using a more energetic and holistic approach effects the best results.