Aches and pains are way of life when you train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but sometimes it’s tough to know exactly what causes them. A while back I started feeling pain across my shoulder and in my tricep region. For about two weeks it felt like I had a constant cramp in my arm. However, when you felt the tricep you could tell that it wasn’t cramped. It's a really frustrating type of pain because I felt like there is nothing I could do about it.
After couple weeks the pain started to migrate down my forearm, numbing my thumb and first finger. At this point I started to get concerned that there was really something wrong. Tingly fingers make me nervous.
I did some research online and came across an article about trigger points. To understand trigger points you need to visualize how your muscle fibers actually work.
There are millions of tiny strands of fibers in every muscle. These strands have microscopic parts called sarcomeres that actually make the muscle contract. Sarcomeres act like little pumps swelling up and shortening the muscle fiber while making it thicker. During a full contraction millions and millions of the little pumps swell up and don’t allow the muscle fibers to slide past each other. If the muscle is relaxed these little pumps release, and the muscle fibers get longer and thinner allowing them slide past one another.
Sometimes when a muscle is overstressed the pumps go into lock down mode. They become chemically unable to release and you end up with a tiny muscular knot called a trigger point. Trigger points can cause pain but the interesting part is that many times it's "referred pain", meaning the trigger point in your neck or shoulder can cause pain someplace else in your body.
I found a chart that showed trigger points in your scalene muscles that cause the same exact symptoms I was feeling. The scalene muscles are a collection of three muscles on the outside of your neck. This made immediate sense. Just before experiencing my pain I had been rolling like a meathead and resisting a few chokes I probably should have tapped to.
Once I knew what was causing my pain, I went to see a massage therapist who understood trigger points and within a couple of sessions I had all the feeling back in my thumb, finger and tricep. Furthermore, the muscular cramping sensation went away.
Trigger points can cause all sorts of referred pain that manifest as headaches, dizziness, pain when breathing, muscle cramps, and can sometimes be mistaken for things like carpal tunnel syndrome. The good thing about trigger points is that they can be treated very easily by a good massage therapist, or you can even take care of them yourself with a little creativity.
See the links included in this article for a chart on referred pain and some additional information about trigger points if you want to learn more.