If you’ve been reading my weekly mileage recaps, then you’ve heard me use the terms “trigger point massage” and “gua sha” a lot lately. These are two types of therapy that I’ve recently discovered and have been incorporating into my training routine in order to treat my trouble areas: my achilles tendons and plantar fascia.
I’ve had various achilles issues on and off for the past 8 months. Currently I’m dealing with sore, tight achilles after long runs. I’ve had plantar fasciitis for a year and a half now. It’s (usually) not so severe that it inhibits my training, though it does force me to be more conservative and careful than I’d like. I’ve found I can keep it under control by icing, stretching and taking the Hammer Nutrition Tissue Rejuvenator supplements, so right now it is only painful towards the end of long runs. I’ve been treating the symptoms of these chronic injuries for a long time, but if they’re ever going to fully heal, I need to get at the root of the problem and treat the cause of the injuries. (Don’t ask me why it took me so long to figure this out!)
I believe the root of both these problems is in my tight, knotted calf muscles. Tight or weak calf muscles are a common cause for achilles injuries because they transfer too much of the burden of running to the achilles tendons. Also, if there is not enough motion in the ankle joint due to a lack of flexibility in the calf muscles then there will be extra strain on the plantar fascia as well. I already stretch on a daily basis, but I rarely foam roll, and I’ve never directly targeted the knots in my calves.
Trigger Point Massage
After doing some research, I decided to start using trigger point massage on the knots in my calves. Contrary to popular believe, it’s direct pressure on the knot, not rolling over it, that causes it to release. The trigger point technique is very simple: roll on a foam roller or tennis ball until you feel a “trigger point”–you’ll know when you hit one because it will hurt!–then, hold the pressure on that spot while you flex your muscle, hold for a few seconds, and relax your muscle, hold. Alternate between flexing and relaxing a few times for each trigger point. In addition to steady pressure, you can also rock side-to-side on the trigger point if it’s an especially stubborn one. This article is a great resource for learning how to use trigger point massage: Hurts So Good: A Beginner’s Guide Self-Myofascial/Trigger Point Release. I’ve been doing this every other day on my calves, and the knots are definitely starting to smooth out.
I’ve been hearing a lot of good things recently about gua sha, a scraping technique used to break up scar tissue, increase blood flow and stimulate healing, so I decided to start using it on my feet and lower legs. I bought two of the scraping tools online, and I use them to firmly scrape my trouble areas with repeated upward strokes. Some people say this is painful, but I think it’s more of a discomfort than pain, and now that I’m used to it, it doesn’t bother me at all. I used this video to learn how to do the technique on my lower legs and feet: Gua Sha Self-Treatment for Lower Extremities. I do this every other day as well, and my feet and legs always feel better afterwards.
Scraping my achilles
In additions to these two therapies, I’m working on strengthening exercises to correct muscles imbalances that are probably the cause of my tight calves. I’m sure it’s going to be a long process, but I have big plans for this year, so I’m focusing on getting my body to the point where it’s not only injury-free but also injury-resistant!