Ischemic compression is a simple pain-free way to release trigger points in about 2 minutes. It’s an effective method to treat triggers, and you can do it yourself. It’s free (you treat yourself) and safe. Worth watching!
Ischemic compression is a gentle and non-invasive self massage technique to turn off active trigger points. You use the principles of ischemic pressure to ‘reset’ the message that is keeping your muscle in spasm.
The important thing to realise here is that trigger points are part of a protective mechanism of your body. Active triggers are actually an important defense reflex that keeps your body safe. However, problems occur when the reflex misfires or doesn’t switch off – causing ongoing pain and stiffness.
The key point here is that this trigger point release technique is pain-free. If it hurts – you’re not doing it correctly. This is one area where the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy really doesn’t apply. In fact, muscles in pain tend to tense up, so causing pain will hinder the technique working correctly.
Pain-free trigger points self massage is an incredibly useful skill. It benefits athletes, massage therapists and bodyworkers, and people who work with chronic pain.
Ischemic is a medical word for reducing or reduced blood flow. When you use this to turn off a trigger point, you’re reducing the blood flow to that place for a short amount of time.
By so doing, you reduce the sensitivity of the trigger point. If you get the pressure just right, you can turn off the trigger or put it to sleep.
The first step is to find the trigger point. To do this, you can use our free trigger point charts tool. Once you’ve found the likely location of the trigger point, watch this video on how to find trigger points.
Now you have a trigger point, you put your finger onto it and press hard enough to cause pain. This how you know you’re exactly on the trigger. Then you reduce the pressure until there’s no pain, and you’re just below the pain threshold.
The big secret here is you keep the pressure accurately on, while not causing pain. Then, after 20 or 30 seconds, slowly start increasing the ischemic pressure.
What you’ve done over the first 30 seconds is reduce the sensitivity of the trigger point. Because of this you can now start pushing harder and harder, but always staying below the pain threshold.
If you push hard enough so it hurts, back off the pressure until it’s no longer painful, then wait. It usually takes 20-30 seconds, and you’ll be able to increase ischemic pressure again.
Eventually, you’ll find you can push harder and harder on the trigger point, and after about 2 minutes it will start to soften and melt away. If you’ve done it correctly and you’d been accurate, you’ll find you can press as hard as you like on a trigger point you could hardly touch at the beginning.
This is trigger point release technique is painless, specific and precise, and very effective.
There are a number of people treating trigger points who belong to the “no pain, no gain,” school of thought. They find the trigger points and then push incredibly hard, so that they cause intense pain, hold it for a certain period of time, and then release it.
Now, this will release some trigger points, but it’s nowhere near as effective. The first reason is it causes awful pain which is quite unnecessary.
But the second reason is that a trigger point is an irritable area. It’s full of all these feedback nerves that are in an over-reactive protection mode. So when you cause pressure and pain in this super-sensitive area, this stimulates the nerves.
All these little nerve endings fire and they are now in a more irritated state. If you keep the pressure on, at some stage you hit an override button or an off button. But you’ve done that in a way that’s caused pain, and for people who are very sensitive, you may cause a pain flare.
It’s much more effective to sneak up on the trigger point using ischemic compression, turn the sensitivity turns, and gradually the whole trigger point melts away.
As a trigger point self-massage technique, it’s especially effective. This is because you have all the data within yourself as to how much pressure you need to use to do the trigger point release without cause pain.
Once you’ve reduced the sensitivity of the trigger points and applied ischemic pressure, the treatment isn’t quite finished. Next, you need to stretch out the muscle. Do this slowly, breathing out with each increase in the stretch. At no stage should you try to force the stretch – this could turn the trigger point back on.
Stretching is an important part of preventing the trigger point from returning. After you’ve finished the stretch, the last stage is to apply a gentle heat. You can use a heat pack, wheat bag or simply a hot water bottle. Apply the heat to the area for 5-10 minutes.
PS. to go deeper into these techniques you may want to have a look at a free starter course I’ve made that teaches self treatment of trigger points.