In my mission to educate horse owners and trainers about the importance of caring for their horses like high performance athletes, we need to understand one of simplest yet potentially devastating enemies of horse performance – the trigger point.
According to Travell and Simons, the authority on muscle spasms amongst humans, these spasms are called ‘trigger points’ and are defined as “highly irritable localized spots of exquisite tenderness in a nodule in a palpable taut band of muscle tissue.” (Simons, Travell and Simons 1999). Translated, that means a trigger point is a knotty place in a muscle that most times hurts when you press on it.
NOTE: Often times a horse will not demonstrate associated pain due to innate survival mechanisms, but this type of trigger point is causing just as much problem as one that obviously hurts.
The trigger point nodule feels like a small lump in the muscle. It can present as small as a pea or many times larger depending upon when the trigger point is detected. Trigger points sometimes also have “palpable taut bands” within the muscle that extend from the trigger point in both directions to the muscle’s attachments and can easily be mistaken for a tendon. This taut band can be the most troublesome part of the problem because it restricts range of motion by limiting the muscle’s ability to lengthen – and this can be the beginning of a nice set up for a tendon or ligament injury down the road.
Ironically, by the time the injury comes along no one will ever trace it back to a simple trigger point that could have been easily broken apart with manual manipulation or muscle CPR as I have coined it.
Today almost everyone is familiar with the term CPR. Its cardio-pulmonary resuscitation – which basically is the technique in which blood, carrying all important oxygen, is manually pumped into the lungs. This pumping technique is used to keep oxygen and all other nutrients, carried by the blood, flowing to the brain and body parts just long enough for the body to revive itself – or for someone to administer support.
I have found this CPR term to be very useful when explaining why massage for horses is absolutely necessary to release muscle spasms (aka trigger points). Muscles that are in the trigger point phase can no longer get oxygen into the muscle fibers and accompanying synaptic clefts of the nerve terminals. It is physiologically impossible for the muscle fibers to release until circulation can enter the muscle fiber. Massage is resuscitation for those needy muscles.
The safest and most effective way to break the vicious cycle that maintains the trigger point is to increase blood circulation, which very quickly increases the supply of oxygen and energy to the muscle tissues. This in turn initiates the physiological release of the spasmed muscle fibers, bringing about normal and full muscle function.
By locating and treating the trigger point with massage in a specific method, trigger points can be affected in just minutes. Results can happen immediately or as far out a 72 hour period from time of treatment.
This release is easily accomplished with consistent massage for your horse and is one of the most cost effective ways to keep your horse healthy, happy and performing at the top of his game.
Caution: Don’t say ‘moo’ with the rest of the mindless cows out there! Because this is such a simple answer for soft tissue malfunction, many people are in disbelief of its efficiency. It is scientifically proven to work as long as the correct trigger points are located and addressed on a consistent basis.
Be sure to catch my next article which will give an in-depth physiological explanation of trigger points for all you brainiacs!
P.S. Equine massage and related modalities described here are not a substitute for good veterinarian care. A certified equine massage practitioner is NOT qualified to diagnose medical conditions and is NOT designed to replace veterinary advice and medicine. However upon veterinary approval, massage may be used in conjunction with traditional veterinary treatment to aid in improving muscle dysfunction or in muscle injury recovery