Category Archives: Trigger Point Therapy

What is the Secret to Horse Show Success?

The number one cause of injury is overuse: working too much, too fast, too soon, or too often. As riders, it is a huge responsibility to protect your horse from these training errors.  It is tempting to overdo it when there are shows you want to go to, or if you have a young and talented horse. There is a limit to how much training the body can absorb. Rest and recovery are as important as hard work.  Realigning the body with massage therapy is another key to preventing injuries.  Flexibility is an important indicator in the prevention of injuries. The horses I know that avoid injuries and are at the top of the leader board  are the ones who are on a carefully planned fitness program, have superior nutrition, regular body work, are ridden on good footing, and have knowledgeable farriers.

Pain is a warning signal that needs to be listened to. Pain is an important signal that something is about to go very wrong. If you saddle up your horse and he has a strong reaction, pay attention to that. If your horse starts refusing jumps, listen to him. If your horse comes out of the stall very stiff, or is taking longer to warm up, there is discomfort present. If dealt with early, many sources of pain can be alleviated through deep massage. If pain signals are ignored, they will inevitably get worse. Something minor can lead to something very serious, or permanent,  in a muscle, tendon, ligament, or joint. When in doubt, use the cold laser, or have body work done. Needless suffering can very often be avoided.

Once an injury occurs, scar tissue forms as it heals. This tissue is not as elastic as the original and thus is more prone to re-injury. As I keep saying, prevention is the key to a long and successful athletic career.

 

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Releasing Trigger Points

Trigger points are tight spots within the muscle (not at the ends or attachments as in stress points) that cause pain, sensitivity, tingling, burning, or weakness.  Trigger point therapy causes the muscle to have a twitch response, which resets and relaxes the muscle. This can be uncomfortable for a moment, but the results are worth it. Reduction or elimination of pain and improved range of motion can be seen and felt immediately.

Another way to release trigger points is through myofascial release. Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds the muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. Fascia has multiple functions. It holds some structures together, providing stability.  It allows others to glide and move freely.

Trigger points can be caused by scar tissue, strain from repetitive movement, bad posture, poor nutrition, or injury. The most effective way to remove trigger points is through manual pressure. When the trigger point is released, the fascia will once again move smoothly over the muscle, pain will be reduced or eliminated, and range of motion will be increased.

Cold laser therapy can also relieve muscle pain caused by trigger points, and improve circulation.

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Trouble With a Canter Lead?

Recently I was called to work on a jumper that was having trouble with lead changes.  When I encounter problems with leads, there are a few spots that I check: triceps in the front leg, the illiacus by the pelvis, the glutes. But those places yielded no clues with this gelding.  I did find a lot of tightness in the muscles of his neck, particularly the brachiocephalicus (the blue muscle in the diagram).

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The horse flinched when I started work on this muscle on both sides of his neck and seemed to have a lot of trouble moving his head to either side.  I asked if the horse was having trouble riding turns and circles, and the owner confirmed that corners had been quite problematic of late.

The brachiocephalicus swings the head and neck from side to side, and also pulls the front leg forward, as it also attaches there. You can see what a long muscle it is. Carrot stretches were almost impossible for this horse. He was literally trapped by the spasms in his neck. I used all the tools in my hands: compression, direct pressure, cross fiber friction, and the horse closed his eyes and starting taking deep breaths. There was great improvement in his flexibility. The rider has reported improvement in his performance in every way: turning, jumping, lead changes, and length of stride.  If your horse is having similar problems, don’t overlook the influence of the brachiocephalicus.

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Is All Pain Bad?

Pain is a valuable and natural tool that notifies us when there is a condition that needs tending to.  Immediately taking or administering (in the case of our animals) painkilling medicine without first reflecting on what message the pain is sending is not useful. The medication will temporarily treat the pain, with side effects, but whatever caused the pain is most likely still there. I prefer a cure to treatment!

Pain is not a disease. Pain is a symptom.

Muscles have two major functions: they contract to create motion, and relax to return to its full length and allow another muscle to pull in the opposite direction.  No other tissue in the body does this.  Muscles move bones that are attached by tendons. To move bones back to their starting points, the muscle that made the movement has to relax so the opposite muscle in the pair to bring the bones back to resting position.

What happens if this dance doesn’t run smoothly? If the first muscle doesn’t fully relax, the bones cannot return to their restful, or healthy postural position. Alignment and balance are then adversely affected. Stiffness and immobility (lameness) gain control of the body, robbing it of strength, stamina, and graceful movement. When the body is balanced (the massage work I do is called body balancing) it is in a state of health.  When postural balance is restored, pain symptoms disappear.

I recently worked on a mare that looked to be in pain in her front end. One leg was twisted so that her hoof pointed in. Her walk looked painful as well. I found an area of very tight muscles in one shoulder (I have no idea how they got like that. This was my first meeting with her.) It did not take long for her whole posture to change. Her leg starting to turn until it was fairly straight. At the end of her bodywork session I asked to see her walk, and she just strutted out of the barn. We were all smiles, and once again I was elated to see an animal relieved of pain just by re-balancing some tight muscles.  A week later I heard from the owner that the mare is moving well.

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A Vicious Cycle

What happens when your horse gets injured? There is the initial pain and then reduced blood carrying oxygen to the injury site. The reduced circulation then causes an involuntary spasm or contraction.  The spasm helps create a protective splint, which is natures’ way of immobilizing the injured area. The spasm, while in some ways protecting the area, creates more pain, and therefore more spasms. Quite a system, right?

In the beginning of recovery, there is inflammation.  There is a purpose to inflammation: it helps the body clear out damaged tissue and muscle fibers. Icing will keep the inflammation from becoming extreme.

New muscle fibers will form as the injury heals.  It is crucial, once the body is healed, to keep all tissue, new and old, flexible and pliable with massage and gentle exercise.  Cold laser therapy can help with healing damaged tissue, but spasms formed during the injury must be manually removed.  I never massage a newly injured horse, or work on any area that is inflamed. Once time has passed, massage is essential to keep the muscles pliable and encourage circulation.

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Why Trigger Points Are Trouble!

Sore muscles usually feel better after a day or two of rest. But if you or your horse has persistent muscle pain — particularly in the neck, shoulders, hamstrings or back — and you literally can put your finger on the spot where it originates, you may be dealing with a trigger point. Trigger points exist in tight bands of muscle or tendon tissue and will twitch when pressed. Trigger points are something traditional doctors ignore, but they should not be overlooked as a source of pain, discomfort, or restricted movement.

Trigger points are tight knots of muscle fiber that can’t relax. Muscle often feels denser and tighter at a trigger point — more rope-like. When you push on it, pain spreads throughout the muscle area. Good posture and body mechanics can help prevent trigger points from forming, but every body will experience them at some point.

Myofascial Trigger Point therapy is a safe, effective ,and drug-free way for massage therapists to help animals or humans suffering from pain and limited range of motion.

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How to Reduce the Risk of Injury

What if I told you there was a simple way to reduce the risk of injury, increase mobility and flexibility, and increase blood flow to muscles? Before a workout or a horse show event, myofascial release can optimize your performance, and that of your horse, and greatly reduce the risk of strains, sprains, fractures,  or tears.

Restrictions and tensions of the soft tissue (muscle, fascia)  do not show up on standard hospital imaging and many patients  (both human and animal) suffer pain and injury because their pain cannot be diagnosed.

If a muscle is tight or stiff, moving it too fast can result in an injury. Fascia wraps around the entire muscle and every soft tissue in the body. When properly softened and stretched through massage, the entire structure of the body can function smoothly and safely. The investment of pre-activity body work can save months of costly rehab.

 

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Think About Your Car!

When the wheels of your vehicle are not in proper alignment, there is abnormal wear and tear on the tires and other parts. Perfect alignment and maintenance allows your car to run properly and get full longevity on all of its parts and pieces. Your body ,and that of your horse, are exactly the same.

Injury and repetitious patterns can change the body of an athlete from ideal functioning as the fascia gradually shortens, tightens ,and adjusts to accommodate misalignment. Fascia is the glue that holds everything together, providing shape, support, and reinforcement to muscle, bone, and movement. It often forms attachments (gets stuck), and needs to be loosened for free movement.

Any body, whether horse, human, dog, etc. that has had proper massage and myofascial release, feels balanced, capable, comfortable, and  fluid in movement. Structural integration realigns and resets the body, giving freedom of movement often not seen in years. Every athlete needs maintenance, as much as any car!

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Should My Horse Rest After a Massage?

I am often asked after I do body work how much time the horse should have off afterwards. The answer in most cases is: None! If the horse is sound, or even rehabbing from an injury, one of the best things to do after the body has been balanced by a massage is to move. Even a long walk will help the body of the horse create muscle memory when he is moving more freely. Bad patterns created by tight muscles can best be re-patterned after a massage.

At a horse show I can pinpoint certain areas of the body to work on depending on the event. Before stadium jumping I often use the cold laser on shoulders and joints of the hind legs to enable quick response at a jump. For dressage I might focus on the muscles of the top line and haunches for maximum pushing power. Before cross country I will make sure the pectoral muscles and jaw are free to enable deep breathing. There are over 700 muscles (and that is not counting cardiac muscles, eye muscles, etc!) and releasing tight ones can hugely benefit performance.

For a nervous horse, body work can be very soothing and relaxing. For a lazy horse, he can feel free and energized after a massage session. My job is to observe reactions and adjust accordingly. I love the challenge!

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Help for the Arthritic Horse

When a horse is lame from an arthritic joint, massage to the surrounding muscles can help reverse atrophy. When a horse is in pain in a limb, he will stop using that leg, causing the muscles to waste away. In compensation, other legs will take up the load. One of the first things I do when assessing a horse is to make sure the body is symmetrical: all muscles on one side should be the same size as on the other side.

Massage can help little used muscles regain their tone.  Along with correct shoeing, nutrition and supplements, the right turnout and exercise, a horses’ athletic career can be greatly extended.

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