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  • Writer's pictureKerith Kilhenny, L.Ac.

Did you know your muscles have their own personality?

Years ago, as I was parallel parking my car, I turned my head to the right to see the curb clearance and zowie(!), the muscle on the right side of my neck clenched up, held on for dear life and stayed there; it was incredibly painful. I did all the things I knew at the time, getting a massage, putting on Tiger Balm, arnica, heat, trying everything to get it to release. It got a little better as the weeks went by, but my right ear always felt slightly craned down to my shoulder, as if it wanted to kiss it.

Years later, I was in acupuncture school and we were practicing Myofascial Trigger Point Release Acupuncture on each other. This needle technique is used to release tight muscles, that are cramped up and causing pain. Trigger point acupuncture technique uses a needle in the “trigger point” of the muscle, prompting it to spasm and release from the painful holding pattern. The acupuncturist finds the trigger point in the muscle by feeling for a tight band, that’s also very tender to the touch. Many people present with trigger points in the neck area for various reasons such as sitting at a computer all day, looking down at cell phones and sometimes parallel parking!

My fellow students were working on my neck, and as they put a needle in the right side near the “crook” of my neck, the muscle spasmed violently and cramped up. This pain was familiar and I knew that it was my old nemesis coming back, which I lovingly call “The parallel parking muscle” (it’s real name is the Levator Scapulae). I realized since I never fully released it years ago, it went into a protective holding pattern and stayed there. I knew there was something slightly off with that side of my neck, but I dealt with it, going on about my life for years. What the huge spasm and cramping told me, was that the muscle fought to stay in that position for so long (to protect), and it did not want to or know how to release. So we had work to do. We had to retrain the muscle (utilizing trigger point acupuncture) to release and relax. Since the muscle had been holding for years, it was going to take some time; it had to learn a new way of being in my body.

When working with patients, I look to see if the issue is acute (a relatively new presentation), or chronic (an issue that has been around months or years) as this will help gauge the amount of time it will take to retrain the muscle. Acute presentations, usually retrain within a few sessions. However, chronic issues may take months to resolve, due to the deeply ingrained pattern muscles are used to, as well as any compensatory movements in other parts of the body that have been picked up along the way.

In working with many muscles, I see that they have “personalities”. They can be stubborn, easy to release, or have just been holding in a certain position for so long, they don’t know how else to be. Some will let go nicely, only to cramp up again later, trying to go back to its familiar way of being. My job is to understand where the muscle is at, and work with it from there. Every patient has a history and every hurt muscle has a story. I learn as much as I can about both through listening, observing, touching and receiving. This way I can create a treatment plan that will work to free the patient from pain, and give the muscle permission to relax.

Below is a before and after of a patient’s right Trapezius muscle released using Trigger Point Acupuncture. This patient had an acute presentation of neck pain, which resolved after this one treatment.

Before Trigger Point Acupuncture on the right side. Notice the uneven neck crease on the right.

After Trigger Point Acupuncture. Both sides are more balanced as seen in the neck crease.

I wish I had known about trigger point acupuncture when my neck locked up years ago, as I would have been able to resolve it quickly. The good news is that everything in the body is constantly trying to get back to balance. Once the muscles are reminded how to be, there is much relief for the patient.

Would you like to know more about this and how it can help you? Visit my website for more information about acupuncture and setting up time with me!

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