Tag Archives: trigger point

Does Your Horse Show Signs of Muscle Fatigue?

No matter how fit your horse is, when he is at rest the muscles should not feel hard. Hard, dense muscles indicate pain and trigger points. Healthy muscles have an elastic feel when palpated.

Trigger points can cause weakness and lack of coordination, so often, riders will push to strengthen those areas. Know that you can’t strengthen muscles that are in spasm. The muscle fibers are contracted. What will happen is that the muscles surrounding the affected muscles will take up the slack, further weakening the muscles with trigger and stress points.

Muscles with trigger points fatigue more quickly than healthy muscles. And the muscles surrounding muscles with trigger points also become fatigued as they tighten and work too hard.

One of the signs that you can look for to identify spasms before you mount is twitching and trembling. Be on the lookout while you are grooming your horse.


Myofascial Pain Syndrome

In my studies and practice, I have come across many horses (and people) that live in pain and lameness because a diagnosis is never reached. This pain, or myofascial pain syndrome, is caused by trigger points that refer pain to other areas.

It is important to treat trigger points as soon as possible so that the syndrome doesn’t turn into chronic pain. The longer pain is present, the more muscles become involved in a chain reaction of dysfunction. One muscle might hurt and tighten and form trigger points, then those trigger points refer new pain somewhere else, and so on and so on…

How many horses do you know who have become pasture ornaments or brood mares because their mysterious lameness kept returning? The sooner trigger points are released, the simpler recovery will be. Muscles with trigger point pain can be returned to normal and healthy function. Eventually atrophied muscles can be strengthened and range of motion restored.


What Does Healthy Muscle Feel Like?

Clients often ask what I am feeling when I work on their horses. How do I know where the problem is? When I first run my hands over a horse, I glide over the muscles.  Healthy muscles feel something like creamy peanut butter. Muscles with spasms and trigger points feel more like chunky peanut butter. Healthy muscles feel moldable, while stiff, tight muscles are rigid.

Horses that are very fit will have muscles, especially in the haunches, that feel hard, but the muscles should still yield, like bread dough, to my hand. I often show clients how to knead certain muscles exactly like making bread.

Scar tissue will feel cold, as circulation is restricted. I use myofascial release techniques to soften and release tight scar tissue.

Once I have assessed where the problems lie, I use other techniques, such as trigger point therapy and stress point therapy to release the muscle .

Trigger Points

Even when there is no apparent pain, I often find trigger points in muscles. When pressed the horse does show that there is soreness. These tender points are bands of tight tissue within the muscle. When left untreated, pain will eventually show up away from the area of tight tissue.

An example of trigger point pain in people is a headache. When there are trigger points in the neck and trapezius muscles, a tension headache is a common result.

Trigger points are formed by chronic overload of a muscle, and can then cause secondary points to form as a result (sort of satellite trigger points).  Other causes are arthritis in joints, fatigue, and trauma. Poor posture can put enough stress on muscles to create trigger points.

In people, carrying a heavy purse or briefcase on the same side all the time can cause enough muscle overload to cause trigger points to form. In horses, I suggest that people alternate the side they mount and dismount on to avoid trigger points in the serratus, long back, rhomboid, trapezius,and posterior pectoral muscles.

What Causes Trigger Points?

There are several ways that trigger points can form:

– a direct blow to the body, such as a crash of some sort

– overexposure to cold

– overuse

– chronic poor posture

All of these factors can cause a muscle to contract. As the contraction is held, the muscle becomes fixed in a holding pattern that can become a source of chronic pain.

In an active trigger point pain can be felt. In a latent trigger point pain is felt only when pressure is applied. Any trigger point can cause a referral of pain to other muscles, often far away from the origin. Headaches are a very common example of referred pain.

Trigger Point Therapy works by the therapist putting pressure on the trigger point to release the contraction. People often report that, while physical therapy and medications failed to relieve their pain, trigger point therapy worked. Often in horses, a lameness that has not responded well to other treatment, will improve well or resolve with trigger point therapy.

Trigger Points in Humans

No one escapes trigger points, even babies. There are 200 hundred pairs of muscles in the body, and trigger points can develop in any of them. Studies have shown that up to 93% percent of pain seen in pain clinics can be attributed to trigger points. Trigger points appear to be the main cause of stiff joints and restricted range of motion.

Physicians don’t study trigger points in medical school and tend to be skeptical, but there are many studies that show that trigger points generate electrical currents. Muscles that are not stressed are electrically silent. Electrical activity shows that a very small area of the muscle is contracting when a trigger point is present. Trigger points also are warmer than the rest of the muscle.

I focus on relieving pain in my 4-legged clients, but after working on my own leg pain recently, I am planning, as time permits,  on expanding to providing pain relief to 2-leggeds who are suffering.

Another Cause of Chronic Pain

I talk about Stress Points a lot in this blog. Have you been wondering why I don’t mention Trigger Points much? Let me explain: Stress Points occur where muscle tendons attach to bone. Trigger Points form in the belly of the muscle. A trigger point is a knot about the size of a pea, deep in the muscle,  and it keeps the muscle both tight and weak. The constant tension of a trigger point restricts circulation to the muscle. The tricky part of treating the pain caused by these points is that the pain is often referred to another place, like a joint. Typically the joint pain is treated, but the cause isn’t.

With experience, I have found that there are some visual cues to many trigger points. I look for ripples in the skin, or just a difference in texture. When I feel a change in temperature during treatment, I know I am on the right track. Circulation has increased and the site feels warmer.

Releasing Trigger Points

  • Helps to relax muscles.
  • Improves range of movement and general body tone.
  • Helps relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Once the trigger point has been worked on, cold laser can be very useful in bringing relief from the pain, especially those in the back and sacroiliac. Being able to eliminate pain without the use of injections or pills is a very achievable goal with these therapies.

What is Trigger Point Therapy?

Most of my posts have focused on stress point therapy (where the muscle attaches to the bone). Today I’d like to talk about trigger points. When the spindle-like muscle fibers that make up the belly of the muscle shorten from injury or other stresses, the oxygen supply is reduced. When oxygen is reduced, calcium rushes in, but the damaged muscle cannot pump the calcium outside the cell where it belongs. A vicious cycle is established and the muscle can’t relax. At the core of a trigger point is a lack of oxygen. Correct massage to these trigger points can provide immediate relief from the pain and tension. Combined with correct exercises and posture, further damage to the muscle is achieved and further injury avoided. Remember: stress points are responsible for movement. Trigger points provide the power. Keeping both parts of the muscle supple will maximize your horses’ athletic capability.   I will repeat: Prevention is always preferable to rehabilitation!

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