Q&A with Licensed Acupuncturist Catherine Cusumano, M.S., L.Ac
While we offer a variety of effective acupuncture techniques at Pellegrino Healing Center, trigger point therapy is a style that we get a lot of questions about. Our acupuncturist Catherine specializes in trigger point acupuncture (TPA) and has answered many frequently asked questions below:
1. How does trigger point acupuncture differ from other kinds of acupuncture techniques?
Trigger point acupuncture is a specific technique that allows the practitioner to isolate bundles of tension (knots) and release them with the needles. Most styles of acupuncture are not specifically geared toward relieving muscle tension that causes pain.
By targeting the knots that can cause referral pain (pain that is distant from the actual tight muscle involved) and blood flow constriction, the practitioner is able to relieve the pain and constriction in both areas. Many people experience a feeling of "pulling" or shooting pain that can be caused by tension in the muscle tissue. Trigger point helps relax the muscle so the patient gets relief from both the pulling sensation and the pain that accompanies it.
Muscle fiber lies in rows; when it gets tight it clenches and makes movement difficult and sometimes quite painful. By helping the muscle fiber relax it relieves pain and restores the full range of motion.
2. What populations would benefit from trigger point acupuncture & why?
Trigger point acupuncture is especially helpful to athletes, dancers, yogis, and people with chronic muscle tension due to Parkinson's, Fibromyalgia, Cerebral Palsy, and other chronic conditions.
Runners, climbers, and cyclists know the unique challenges of calves, hamstring, and quad tension that can interfere with doing what you love. Weight lifters know the frustration that pain and tension can cause limiting their body-building goals. The often repetitive activity involved in dance sequences can cause muscle constriction that can lead to injuries or a loss of range of motion. Really, anyone who does a repetitive activity including sitting in front of a computer with their neck craned forward and their arms outstretched for extended periods of time or people who are on their feet all day can benefit from TPA.
Pain due to muscle tension is very treatable and relatively easy to relieve if you know what to look for. Trigger point acupuncture could be the key to helping relieve chronic tension and minimize the risk of injury.
3. Are there any additional benefits to Trigger Point Acupuncture?
I frequently treat migraine, cluster, and tension headache sufferers with great success using the trigger point technique. The muscles around the neck and upper shoulders can become so constricted that the reduced blood flow to the head can trigger a migraine or tension headache. This style of acupuncture is powerfully effective for relieving all types of headache pain and neck/upper back tension and stiffness. It is also hugely beneficial to sciatica sufferers. The tension in the gluteals and deep six hip rotators can compress the sciatic nerve and cause terrible pain and aching in the legs and hips. By releasing tension in the piriformis, tenor fascia latae muscle, and gluteal muscles I have been able to get the tension and pressure off the sciatic nerve thus relieving the ache and pain that is unique to "sciatica".
4. What should patients expect from the treatment?
If you are an athlete, dancer, or yogi, you already know that some discomfort is part of the process to excel at your sport or activity. If you sit at a desk or stand all day, you know how painful it becomes. It stands to reason that the resolution can be a bit uncomfortable.
Your nervous system is always protecting you. When you fall you put your hands out so you don't land on your face, a notably more important body part than your hands. This is the nervous system determining which is the more important part to protect. When your muscle reaches the point of "too much tension" the tendon, which attaches muscle to bone, will trigger a signal to the brain. The signal informs the brain that injury is probable if the tension is not released. Think, Achilles Tendon injury; if your brain doesn't get that signal in time the muscle tears away from the bone and the damage is enormous. In order to prevent these kinds of injuries, trigger point acupuncture will allow the brain to signal to the muscle to have a fasciculation or quiver. This releases the tension in the muscle thus protecting it from major damage. Trigger point causes a small "spasm" in the muscle that relieves the tension. When this trigger occurs it releases lactic acid, just like when you exercise hard and your muscle becomes sore the next day.
After receiving TPA patients typically feel sore and a little achy for about about a day. This is due to the lactic acid release. There is some minor muscle fiber damage from the trigger release as well, but it is minimal and not at all harmful long term. The soreness can be relieved with a warm compress and a temporary reduction in activity in that area. For example, if I treated your legs for trigger points you would be better off doing an upper body workout the next day and letting the legs rest until the soreness goes away. It is very important to stay hydrated as this will help to flush out the lactic acid as well.
5.) Anything else you want to say about how you can help?
I have been treating people from a variety of backgrounds and activity levels using this technique for over 18 years. I would be honored to help you meet your personal athletic goals and relieve the symptomatic pain that comes with an active lifestyle. The possibility of helping you experience fewer migraines/headaches or any reduction of pain in your body is always my goal as a practitioner.
If you have more specific questions please contact me at the center. I would be happy to do a consultation with you to determine if TPA is a good option for you.
To learn more about Catherine, read her bio here.
Written By Catherine Cusumano, M.S., L.Ac
Trigger Point Acupuncture Specialist
Catherine hosts a CEU class on Trigger Point Acupuncture, teaching other licensed
acupuncturists about this technique.