Our last post discussed nociception, a phenomenon in which the nervous system sends "danger signals" throughout the body, thus creating a pain response.
When pain becomes chronic, the central nervous system (CNS) has ratcheted up its sensitivity, to the point where even the most benign stimuli can create a pain response.
At this point, the pain response becomes self-sustaining. A vicious cycle.
Which is why calming down, or down-regulating, the CNS is so important to the Coaching The Body™ method—it's necessary, if you want to eliminate the pain.
But it's not the ONLY thing you have to do...
You also need to suss out and address the peripheral sources of nociception, streaming into the brain from other parts of the body.
This is where Trigger Point Therapy "2.0" comes to play.
Most bodyworkers and pain practitioners have had some training in trigger points and how to treat them.
But that training is insufficient at best, and almost always incomplete.
What even most neuroscientists don't know, is that latent trigger points in muscles can cause nociceptive input to the CNS—just like an acute injury can.
These latent trigger points themselves don't actively cause direct pain referral. But they are still sending hidden danger signals to the CNS, and causing imperceptible disturbances in other muscles within their referral zone.
Example: Serratus Anterior
The serratus anterior is a muscle that very few therapists are comfortable treating (or are even aware it needs treatment). It can pull the scapula around into protraction, or create the dreaded, slumpy shoulder posture.
This will stress the lower trapezius, which tries to fight it and pull the shoulder blades back—but the trap usually loses. That is bad enough in itself. 🙁
The serratus also has a referral pattern that lands right over the low trap—but many people don't feel pain there; the pain is in their shoulders and neck, where the low trap refers.
That's how latent trigger points work. You can't feel their direct referral, but they are still there, and (in the case of the serratus) sending silent signals into the low trap.
Most therapists would just try to treat the end of the chain, the upper trapezius, where the pain is. But if you press on the serratus, it's tender, and clearly has trigger points too. They just aren't causing direct referred pain.
Your Central Nervous System is Doing Its Best, Man
The constant stream of danger signals coming from latent trigger points can make it very difficult and time-consuming to address chronic pain by central down-regulation alone, because these hidden sources of nociception keep telling the nervous system that something is seriously wrong.
The central nervous system doesn't know the difference between trigger points and injuries. All it knows is, danger! danger! danger! The alarm bells are going off, and it needs to respond.
To the brain, referred pain makes it seem like an injury has happened.
In other words, trigger points fool the brain—along with your doctor, and most other practitioners—into responding as if there was soft tissue damage.
Dr. Jay Shah, a brilliant researcher with the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, has done experiments in which he inserted hollowed out acupuncture needles (very tiny) into the immediate area of trigger points. The researchers withdrew fluids from these areas, and compared them to the nociceptive compounds found at the sites of actual injuries.
They were the same.
What Even Are Trigger Points, and Where Do They Come From?
Trigger points aren't injuries—they are very tiny areas of disturbed function, in the areas where motor nerves meet muscle fibers.
The body develops—and clears—trigger points constantly. However, various factors (anatomical variations, biochemical issues, toxicity, etc.) can cause them to linger.
**By the way, if you'd like to learn more about trigger point physiology, our Functional Anatomy course (with both in-person and online components) is a great source for this information, covering both general info and specific characteristics for over 60 key muscles.**
Trigger points can even be useful, an idea first advanced by the late Dr. Leon Chaitow. The taut fibers found around trigger points can act as a kind of splint, providing an additional layer of stability across a joint that appears unstable or badly damaged.
My approach with Coaching The Body™ is to get inside the logic of the CNS, to understand how and where it's using trigger points to protect the body. Once we're able to identify those patterns, we can disassemble entire networks of trigger points—and start turning off those alarm bells.
This is a super important idea, and a "secret sauce" principle of my work that differentiates Coaching The Body from other approaches.
And frankly, it's one of the main reasons we're so successful at treating pain.
Using guided movement, compression, distraction, and "hacking" the neurological system, we can clear these hidden networks of latent and active trigger points.
Thus changing the structural conditions that set the nervous system up for chronic pain.
The result is generally a dramatic reduction in both the experience of pain and the likelihood that it will return, because we dig beyond the external symptoms to root out pain at its source.
And listen—I don't want pain to get low self esteem. We tend to talk about it in pretty negative terms, because pain is something nobody wants to be in, and because we're in the business of helping people out with that.
But pain has a really important purpose, .
Like all alarms, pain is your body's annoying and persistent way of letting you know there's a problem. Pain is just a way of making it known that there's a problem, so you'll take some kind of action to protect yourself.
In the case of injury or illness, it can be life-saving.
The problem with the kind of pain WE treat, is that most of the time there isn't a real injury, and most of that pain input is coming from trigger points.
THAT kind of pain is unnecessary, poorly understood, and not well addressed by conventional medicine.
And it's our specialty. 🙂
If you're hungry to learn more about this, we have several different types of study available...
- Come study with us in person! Our program is built around weekend workshops, and we have several entry level classes that can be attended by anyone. Functional Anatomy is one of the best, along with Level 1 and CTB Fundamentals (which goes deeply into our Trigger Point 2.0 ideas and treatment paradigm).
- Study online with us! We offer several standalone online courses, including specialized workshops for specific areas of the body. There is also an intensive online study program, our CTB Membership.
- If you're the one in pain, come work with one of our CTB practitioners. We have a clinic in the Chicago area, but our clients travel from all over the country because our work is so effective and unique. We have special programs in the works for out-of-towners, so contact us or use the chat window below for more info.
LEARN COACHING THE BODY™ ONLINE
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See some actual treatment examples and learn about the CTB Yearly Membership in my FREE webinar on How To Treat Pain Using Coaching The Body™.