Not So Tender Loving Care
Relieve common runners' maladies with self-massage and trigger-point therapy
When your muscles feel tight, what’s the most natural thing to do? You might say stretch. However, stretching an already tight muscle can cause reactive tension, as the muscle tries to protect itself; since taut muscles already put pressure on their attachments, stretching can damage the tendon and joint. It is more important to identify the root cause of muscle irritation—often, it’s not where you expect—and address it properly.
You’ve probably heard of “trigger points.” The term was coined by Dr. Janet Travell, M.D. to describe small contraction knots in muscle and surrounding tissue (collectively termed myofascia). Trigger points can feel like a partly cooked piece of macaroni buried deep beneath the skin. They are often caused by overuse or overexertion, as in the case of the athlete attempting to run farther or faster—and who among us doesn’t fit that description?
Myofascial irritation is astoundingly common, implicated to some degree in iliotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis and other running-related conditions. What’s more, trigger points are notorious for referring pain to parts elsewhere in the body—for example, pain in the quadriceps often radiates to the knee—which can make them difficult to treat. That is, unless you know where to look.
Use the following head-to-toe guide, and with your own fingers and perhaps a trusty massage tool or two, you’ll find myofascial release to be satisfying and healing.