Preventing Running Injuries with Trigger Point Therapy (Plus An Unexpected PR)

Something very unexpected happened today, so wonderfully unexpected that I’m still riding on the endorphins. Eric and I ran in the Lou Gehrig 10K this morning, our second year in a row. I have not been training for speed lately; just running for fun a few days a week. But today I felt good, my legs felt lose, it was a beautiful day, and I ran for a cause that is very dear to my heart. I got a PR and I finished 1st in my age group :) It helped that it was a smaller race, but I will still happily accept my results.  See my post-race thoughts and results HERE, on my new Runs + Races page.

I thought it would be a good day night to share an important part of my training routine with you. So, I am happy to introduce you to the self myofascial release, or  Trigger Point TherapyI’ll call it TPT, for short. TPT helps me work through the tight spots in my legs, helps prevent scar tissue from forming, and keeps me from getting injured.

What are trigger points?

A trigger point is basically a muscle knot. When you have a trigger point, your muscle is in a spasm and is tender to the touch, which will likely put your running plans on hold. If you don’t take care of it right away, it will pull on your muscle and the surrounding areas, causing pain. It’s often difficult to locate exactly where the trigger point is located because it may set off a shooting pain that’s far from the trigger sight. If you don’t take care of these painful spots, they can turn into scar tissue. I find that I’m prone to trigger points when I’m not paying attention to my stride, overtraining, or not resting enough.

What can you do?

The concept of trigger point therapy (or self myofascial release) is to massage those trigger points to release the knot. You can do this using a foam roller or other products, such as Trigger Point Therapy tools. The basic concept is to use your body weight to press your troubled muscle on top of the roller, and slowly roll over the specific area. This allows you to apply a lot of pressure to the hard-to-reach muscles comfortably, without using your hands.

My experience – ouch!

When I first started running, I suffered from lower leg injuries, which eventually led me to overcompensate, causing problems to other parts of my legs. My trouble spot was my right calf. I RICED and RICED. But Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) did not do the trick. I iced so much I gave myself freezer burns, elevated every night, and slept in my compression socks, despite the fact that I don’t like having my feet covered at night. Yes, being a rookie, I over-trained and did not give myself enough rest (more on that later), but the self myofascial release, with the foam roller and the TPT “footballer”, helped me heal much faster. By the way, I learned the technical term, “myofascial”, from my amazing pilates instructor, who convinced me to get my first foam roller, which I use almost every day.  But because my lower calf problem was so bad, I needed to target the lower part of my legs a bit more. That’s when I came across the TPT Starter Set, which included the footballer.

When I stood in line to buy my $70 TPT Starter Set, Eric thought that I was getting ripped off (and he had a point). The TPT starter set includes a block, a mini roller, which they call a “footballer”, and a little ball that looks like a tennis ball. The block elevates the lower leg, while the footballer massages the calf. The mini massage ball was supposed to be great for the neck, shoulders, back, calves, glutes and feet (which it was).

I had a good feeling about it. But that good feeling literally turned into a bad feeling when I gave it a test drive at Fleet Feet. As I put some weight on my calf and started to roll it back and forth on the footballer, I wanted to scream at the woman who insisted I keep pressing my leg over the mini roller and holding it in place. I thought this mini roller was going to make me burst into tears in the middle of the store. And while I like to think of myself as someone who has decent tolerance for pain, there was no denying that it HURT. But it hurt because I had a huge knot, probably with some scar tissue, that was inflamed and was literally twisting and pulling on my muscle.

So despite getting the disapproving head shake from Eric, I bought the TPT starter set. I started using it regularly, in addition to RICE, and the pain (slowly) faded away.

Examples of how to use

1. Sit on your mat and place the block by your feet. Put the footballer on top, stretch your right leg out, and place your right calf on top of the footballer. Place your hands by your sides on the mat to support you.

2. I usually start rolling back and forth from my ankle to the the top part of the calf. Once I find the tenderness, I hold for about 30 seconds.

3. I add pressure by placing the the other leg on top of the leg that I’m working. This may be too much when you are starting to use the footballer for the first time.

4. I rotate my foot inward to target the inner calf, and then outward to get to the outer, and roll the same way.

You get the point, there are so many other variations you can try with this roller.

How often to use?

I usually use my TPT footballer once a week, but if I start feeling any discomfort  from training, I use it every day. In addition to the TPT starter set, I use this foam roller.

You can find foam rollers that are inexpensive at your running store.You can also go a bit fancier with something like this.

I use the foam roller to target the IT band, quadriceps, hamstring and adductors.

There are many reasons I don’t get injured as much as I used to, including some improvement in my running form, buying shoes that fit, and resting. But targeting the sore and tight muscles in my body, and massaging them out before they turn into knots, definitely helps me prevent injuries and recover faster between runs.

Hope you try a foam roller at the minimum, if you haven’t already. I promise you, it will be so worth it!

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    My name is Maria and I live in California. I love teaching high-energy Pilates classes, going on long runs, and making connections with all of you! Hope you find a few useful articles, fitness tips, and recipes while you're here.

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