WHAT ARE TRIGGER POINTS?
Trigger points are areas of tension found in muscles, usually painful on compression or palpation. When a muscle is injured or overused it lays down fibrous scar tissue in the muscle, which can contribute to the development of trigger points. Trigger points can also occur due to a response to muscle tension, nervous stress, fatigue or restlessness. All of these factors may exist for a competition horse. These factors lead to a decrease in blood flow to the muscle, which reduces the oxygen delivered to the muscle, leading to a build-up of toxins. If your sports horse is competing regularly or participating in a high level of work they will more than likely have developed trigger points. The key now is to find them and treat them, to allow your horse to performance to their full potential.
WHY DO I NEED TO TREAT TRIGGER POINTS?
The development of trigger points can cause pain, loss of muscle, restrict movement and alter the muscle activation patterns. These responses are a welfare issue for any animal, but in relation to performance if they are not treated a decline in performance and fitness is likely to occur. Pain will make any horse less likely to want to perform, a loss of muscle will lead to a loss of fitness and strength, the alteration of muscle activation patterns will alter the way they move, likely to make movements less fluid.
ARE ALL TRIGGER POINTS THE SAME?
Trigger points can be described as active, passive, primary or secondary. Active trigger points will be painful on palpation, and are usually associated with pain or dysfunction. Passive trigger points will be less painful on palpation and are associated with a restriction in movement, these can be described as ‘knots’ in the muscle. Primary trigger points are the result of an injury, virus or disease and develop due to abnormal stresses applied to the tissue surrounding the muscle. Secondary trigger points occur due to irritation elsewhere, an active trigger point or visceral disease. It will depend on what trigger points are found as to how to treat them. Treatment of the trigger points will allow the horse to be more comfortable which in turn will enhance and optimise performance.
HOW ARE TRIGGER POINTS TREATED?
Trigger point are treated by applying pressure using a thumb or finger directly over the trigger point. The trigger point has a poor blood supply, by working over the area the blood flow is restricted further, this generating two responses;
1. It draws attention to the area, allowing the neural system to target it, this can help to facilitate the release of muscles, reducing pain and helping to restore function. If too much pressure is applied it can be painful and cause damage to tissues deeper to the trigger point, likewise if not enough pressure is applied the trigger point will not be released.
2. Due to the reduced blood flow to the area the application of pressure causes a reflexive response, when this pressure is released it encourages blood to the area which will aid in the facilitation of healing, helping to flush the area of toxins.
For further advice of information regarding trigger point release massage please get in touch with Harriet at H&H Veterinary Physiotherapy