Self-Massage for Rehab

First published October 2nd, 2020


Have you ever wondered why Exercise Physiologists are recommending Foam Rollers and Massage balls?

What do they do and how they do it?

Exercise Physiologist Yolanda explains.

Trigger Points

Myofascial trigger points, commonly referred to as muscle knots, are areas in the tissue (usually muscle) that are overly contracted and are painful under pressure.

They can be associated with symptoms such as muscle tightness, stiffness, and general aching in the surrounding tissues, and can sometimes cause these sensations surprisingly further away from where the actual knot is! (This is known as referred pain).

They don’t necessarily cause pain in a healthy person (these are known as ‘latent’ trigger points, and often lay dormant).

But a lot of our rehab clients, with long term injuries and persistent pain, have a heightened pain sensitivity and addressing these trigger points can make a decent difference for both pain as well as tightness.

What is actually happening inside the muscle?

You can think of them as mini muscle cramps, where small sections of muscle contract and shorten, creating small nodules or lumps in the tissue.

When this happens, blood flow to that area can become restricted, limiting the supply of oxygen and nutrients, as well as the removal of waste products. Trigger points can become a mini ‘toxic waste’ centre, potentially contributing to inflammation in the area and therefore heightened pain sensitivity.

What causes trigger points?

In a nutshell, trigger points develop in an attempt for the body to protect itself from tissue damage.

This can be in the case of an acute injury to the tissue (I.e. muscles strains), or in the case of a slower onset overuse of a tissue.

The muscle contracts around the area of injury in order to provide reinforcement and prevent further damage, similar to how we may use stitches to promote recovery.

Self-Massage and Trigger Points

In many cases, trigger points can be reasonably straight-forward to treat if you know where they are! That’s why it’s an effective self-management technique for our clients to help manage their pain.

We teach our clients to hunt around for those areas of sensitivity. When you find one, the sensation it creates should feel somewhat similar to the pain experience that they feel, or it may be localised.

Self-massage using foam rollers and massage balls on these trigger points can help to ‘un-do’ these tight bundles of muscle fibers, and improve blood flow to the area to aid in muscle recovery.

It’s best to follow this with some foam rolling to release out the myofascial and then stretching and light exercise. When the tissue is already warmed and muscle bundles have released, allowing the muscle to be moved through its full range of motion.

Self-performed Trigger Point massage is similar to other techniques such s acupuncture, dry needling, injections, and transcutaneous electrical stimulation.

We like to encourage people to take their health into their own hands by being active participants in their recovery.


Etiology of Myofascial Trigger Points (Carel Bron & Jan D. Dommerholt), 2012

Author:  Yolanda van Vugt (Exercise Physiologist Auckland, NZ)

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