Arthritis is the first word that comes to mind when you have joint pain and stiffness, especially if spurs show up on X-ray. Even with such “proof,” it can be a mistake to automatically assume that the trouble is in the joint.
Arthritic spurs don’t always cause pain. Nevertheless, “arthritis,” has become a virtual synonym for joint pain, applied by the public and throughout the healthcare community. A diagnosis of arthritis is often based on no more evidence than your statement that an elbow, shoulder, or knee hurts.
You may be surprised to learn that joint pain very often doesn’t originate in the joint at all but is actually referred pain from myofascial trigger points (small contraction knots) in nearby muscles. This remarkable revelation comes from decades of research by Doctors Janet Travell and David Simons, authors of the widely acclaimed medical textbook, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual.
Travell and Simons point out that treatment is not likely to succeed when the problem is wrongly assumed to be in the joint simply because it’s the site of the pain. Referred pain seems to fool everybody, including most doctors and other healthcare practitioners.
The Effect on Joints
Travell and Simons quote other research that suggests that trigger points may be a contributing cause of true arthritis. The reason for this is that muscles afflicted with trigger points become shortened and stiff.
When this happens, even normal movement puts undue strain on muscle attachments at the joints, which can eventually result in damage to connective tissue and distortion of the joints themselves. Joint popping is evidence that muscles shortened by trigger points are partially disarticulating the joint.
Trigger point therapy is the most appropriate treatment for shoulder, hip, and knee joint pain, even when genuine arthritic changes have occurred, because it goes to the source of the problem. Deactivation of trigger points stops the pain and allows the muscles to lengthen, thereby relieving strain on the joints.
You won’t find these ideas being promoted in the drug companies’ TV ads, because trigger points can’t be treated with prescription drugs. Painkillers are typically prescribed for joint pain, although they can be the worst kind of therapy because they don’t fix the problem. They only diminish your awareness of it. Painkillers invite you to go on with the same activities that caused the problem in the first place.
Stretching can be Bad Therapy
Physical therapy for joint pain in the form of exercise and stretching can also make trigger points worse. It’s helpful to look at trigger points as a natural mechanism whose function is to protect muscles from abuse and overuse. Stretching can irritate trigger points and make them contract even tighter.
Exercising can be counterproductive as well. Trigger points protectively weaken a muscle, but without atrophy. Normal strength returns when the trigger points have been deactivated. Stretching and exercising should be deferred until this has been accomplished.
Trigger points should be at the top of the list during any examination for joint pain and stiffness. When healthcare practitioners have had adequate training and experience, trigger points are easy to locate and treat. In fact, there are ways to treat them yourself quite effectively.
In The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, nationally certified massage therapist Clair Davies has simplified Travell and Simons’s extensive research into myofascial pain and made it accessible to the layman. His innovative methods of self-applied trigger point massage will relieve pain in the lower legs, ankles, and feet when trigger points are the cause.
To find out more about the book and the method, please visit the homepage. To read a growing number of reviews by people who have been helped by the book, take a look at the book’s page at Amazon.com.