Image courtesy of Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual; Vol. 1, Travell and Simons.
Here I sit with my thumbs buried in a woman’s neck. A swarm of thoughts arises: Am I even on the trigger point? I’m not causing kickback pain, am I? Isn’t there a better way to position my thumbs so they don’t hurt so darn much?
I guess it can be a bit overwhelming when a wish actually comes true. Just the other week I stated that I was feeling burned out, uninspired. I longed for massage work beyond Swedish and the “basic” deep tissue. (In spa-land, that often turns out to be firm Swedish to the tension trifecta: back, neck and shoulders. And it can become boring.)
Frustrated, I decided to stop dwelling on where I thought I should be in my young massage practice and turned my attention toward life things, namely starting The Gut Balance Revolution diet and revving up my social life. I needed to get happy. So I did.
And a funny thing happened. Suddenly, there was an uptick of clients at work who, whether they knew it or not, needed trigger point therapy done to them. It seemed like I couldn’t go even a day without happening on a point or two – or even more. Clients reported, often with surprise, immediate relief.
Since massage school, I’ve been fascinated by trigger point therapy; that is, from a respectful distance. This is all it is: a band within a muscle that continues to fire or stay contracted even if the rest of the muscle remains relaxed. It’s most often caused by overuse or trauma. And the cool and baffling part about a trigger point is that it often refers pain to another part of the body. That’s why I was so intimidated by it; I was afraid of working on the wrong spot. Here’s a great overview of trigger point therapy.
At work trigger point therapy isn’t mentioned in my advertised list of modalities; I just didn’t feel comfortable with it when I graduated from massage school. Back in the day, we’d get paired up during class and instructed to seek out trigger points, but I was paradoxically too unskilled to find them. I needed the hands-on experience in order to really learn the material.
Over time at work, I started collecting the pain patterns, one by one, as clients’ bodies would present them to me. But the comfort never really secured a toehold…until just a couple of weeks ago.
Enter Anne*. Anne is a regular client who A) has chronic pain and B) also has an amazing sense of body awareness and a knowledge of anatomy. This is because 1) she’s extremely astute and 2) she’s had oodles of bodywork done.
In short, Anne was my worst nightmare.
I’d worked on her about a year ago, and she moved on to our collection of other MT’s. Indubitably she wasn’t thrilled with my work at the time. Indubitably she was seeking someone who could do trigger point work.
By some scheduling fluke, I imagine, she was scheduled with me early this month. She rattled off the sites of her pain, and I took in as much as I could. But something was different this time: me. Armed with recent success stories, I felt at least somewhat confident that I could resolve at least some of her pain.
And two levator scapulae trigger points and one suboccipital trigger point later, I did. She rebooked with me two weeks later. And then she saw me again today.
Today I was in over my head, I’ll admit. During the session as I resolved one trigger point after another, Anne requested that I clear up every one that I could find. The problem was, she had a good 10 or so in the right side of her neck alone. I explained to her that working on too many points in one spot might cause kickback pain to flare, but she wanted me to keep going.
So there I sat, tentatively hopeful, a little fearful and wholeheartedly grateful for such a willing teacher. I reflected on the past few weeks and decided that change is possible and that faith and patience are crucial for that change to take place. When my life was ready, I was presented with opportunities. And just like that, my career is thrilling once again.
One little plug, and I’ll let you go. My rather sordid experience with the gut-balancing diet is spottily documented on Instagram. I share not-great photos of some of the dishes I’ve created along the way. Check me out @jlew57, if you’d like. (Way to sell it, Joanne!)
*Of course, the client’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.