Along with focused and regular stretching (see our previous post), try incorporating some simple self-treatment into your training regime to help stay injury-free.
Trigger point de-activation
A trigger point feels like a knot in the muscle or fascia. It may hurt when pressed, or it may be tender and radiate pain without pressure, or it may produce “referred pain” — pain distant from the actual trigger point location.
Here’s how to de-activate some common trigger points…
Treat your thighs as three areas — outer, middle and inner. Use paired thumbs, supported fingers, an elbow or a tennis ball to massage the trigger points (knots) while sitting on the edge of a chair. Start from the top of the thigh and work down towards your knee.
Press on one area consistently for 8-10 seconds until you feel some of the tension release. Do not apply pressure for any longer or the area may end up bruised and sore, and you should always work within a pain threshold of 0-10, with 10 unbearable. Never go beyond 7 to ensure the muscle doesn’t go into spasm. Give the trigger points 6 to 12 strokes several times a day.
Focus in particular on Biceps Femoris, the power muscle that bends the knee and helps extend the hip when we run, walk and jump.
Differentiate this muscle from the other hamstring muscles by feeling for the groove between them halfway up the back of the thigh. You can do this while sitting down. Keep your foot on the floor and contract the back of the thigh, as if you were trying to pull your foot back. This will make the muscle stand out, and then — while sitting on a hard surface — move a tennis ball along the groove.
Take better care of your hamstrings by looking at what you’re sitting on — chairs, couches and car seats — and whether they put pressure on the backs of the thighs. Make adjustments wherever possible and if your feet don’t rest squarely on the floor, use something as a footrest.
Again, sit on a hard chair and use your opposite knee to apply pressure. Simply move the leg down over the knee along three or four parallel lines, starting at the back of the ankle and rising to the back of the knee. When you find a trigger point, do extra work on the spot, going over it repeatedly with short strokes.
Try massaging both along the muscle and across it. For really concentrated work, move the skin of your calf with your knee rather than just sliding over it.
Take a tennis ball and place it between the part of the buttock that’s the source of pain and a wall. For this exercise, the buttock is divided into an upper and lower section. Start along the edge of the iliac crest (the hip bone) and move in different directions — across, up and down. Then relocate the ball to the lower section of the buttock, and repeat. When you find a tender spot, hold up to 20 seconds. You may need to take a big breath in and breathe out while exerting pressure with your body; breathing like this is particularly effective if the process is a little painful. You can do these three or four times in one session, once a day.
Illiotibial band (IT band)
Use a firm foam roller and your weight to de-activate the trigger points in this area of fascia running from your hip to your knee. This can be very sensitive!
Support yourself on your side, with your elbow and shoulder keeping the target leg outstretched. The opposite leg is flexed at the knee and hip and supports you in front of the straight leg. Place the ball or roller under the outstretched leg and allow the buttocks, back and leg muscles to soften. Sink down onto the ball or roller and slowly roll until find an area of increased tension. Wait for the release.
With all these exercises, you’ll almost certainly find more than one trigger point and they may well be very tender! Go over each area three or four times. Once you’ve relieved the tension, do the stretches that are relevant to the muscles you’ve treated to encourage the muscles to stay looser — you’ll find them in our previous post.