I discovered this long ago while working on my own muscle knots, trying to tame an episode of low back pain, which is a never-ending job — they are always under control, more or less, but also always threatening to come back.
This is what trigger points do, of course — they come back. It’s in their nature. And that’s why I’m always working on them, and always discovering new ways of doing it. It’s a creative challenge that never ends. It’s also why PainScience.com publishes a deliciously detailed tutorial about trigger points, which contains more detail about the bath trick, as well as hundreds of other basic and advanced tips and tricks.
The bath trick is a “together at last” trick: it came from combining two other classic tactics for releasing your own trigger points: the heat of a bath, with the pressure of a ball (see tennis ball massage). But the result is more than the sum of the parts, and it works better in some ways than anything else I’d come up with before. Suddenly I’m using the bath trick regularly myself, and recommending it to my readers.
Quick trigger points orientation
Muscle “knots,” usually known as myofascial trigger points (TrPs), are a factor in most of the world’s aches and pains. A trigger point is (hypothetically) a small patch of super-contracted and irritated muscle tissue, which can cause symptoms ranging from mild stiffness to extreme pain and a variety of odd side effects. They not only cause pain and problems directly, but also spring to life in response to almost all other painful problems, compounding and complicating them.
Even though the existence and importance of trigger points is well known to medical specialists and researchers, most doctors and therapists know little about them, so misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment are epidemic. For more information about how trigger points might be involved in your own medical history, see:
Advanced Tutorial: The Complete Guide to Trigger Points & Myofascial Pain
Absurdly simple instructions for trigger point release in the bath: simply …
- run a hot bath …
- climb in and get nice and warm and comfortable …
- and then bring in a ball! Trap the ball between your body and the bottom or the back of the tub, and cheerfully crush your trigger points with relieving pressure.
The Bath Trick
Run a hot bath & trap a ball between your body & the bottom or back of the tub to rub your back muscles — your buoyancy allows for excellent control with moderate pressures.
Many kinds of balls will work well, but a lacrosse ball or a KONG® brand rubber dog ball is perfect.
Play with the water level to increase or decrease your buoyancy and how firmly you are pressing down on the ball.
Pressure caution is still required! Although the buoyancy of the bath generally makes it relatively easy to regulate the pressure, compared to working on the ground with a ball, it can still be tricky, and I think the heat of the bath can also mask the intensity. I have bruised myself even when I thought I was being careful. Bruising is not cool and not therapeutic. Please be careful not to overdo it, especially at first!
If you have severe, stubborn trigger points, the bath trick alone isn’t going to be enough. Try PainScience.com’s extremely detailed tutorial, The Complete Guide to Trigger Points & Myofascial Pain It includes all of this information and many, many more troubleshooting tips, tricks and concepts for difficult cases. The bath trick is just one of dozens of ideas. In the tutorial, you will learn more about why the bath trick works so well, what kind of ball is especially ideal for the bath trick (there really is a particular sort of ball that definitely works best), which muscle groups benefit the most from the bath trick, plus many other clever ways to use your hands and tools to do more than just “take the edge off” your muscle pain. Buy it now or read the first few sections for free.
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About Paul Ingraham
I am a science writer in Vancouver, Canada. I was a Registered Massage Therapist for a decade and the assistant editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I’ve had many injuries as a runner and ultimate player, and I’ve been a chronic pain patient myself since 2015. Full bio. See you on Facebook or Twitter, or subscribe:
- Hot Baths for Injury & Pain — Tips for getting the most benefit from a hot soak, the oldest form of therapy