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Reduce hand pain by releasing your trigger points

Hand and wrist pain is a common story for crocheters, knitters, and other crafters who spend a lot of time making repetitive motions with their hands.

If you visit the doctor, you may be told you have carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, arthritis, an RSI (repetitive strain injury), and that may be the case… or it may not.

Before you consider serious medical treatments like steroid injections or surgery to help with your hand pain, I’d suggest you read my story below, and see if you can fix yourself without the need for drugs or surgical interventions.

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, and if your doctor has diagnosed you with a condition, their recommended treatment may be the right solution for you. But I’d recommend you try this simple self-administered pressure treatment first – it can’t make things any worse, it’s fast and free, and it may relieve you of serious pain!

My Story

In 2007, I was mis-diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.

The pain was debilitating. I could no longer perform everyday tasks without agonizing pain: turning a door handle; pushing open a door with my palm; using a computer mouse; operating a can opener…

I was referred to a specialist, given a fancy wrist brace to lock my wrist straight, and told that if that didn’t fix the problem, my only other options were steroid injections or carpal tunnel surgery.

I wore the wrist brace for months, and learned to mouse left-handed. The brace helped with the pain, but the problem didn’t go away.

Eventually, I found a cure that was ridiculously simple, I could perform on myself at no cost, and has completely fixed the problem.

None of the doctors I visited considered this as a possibility.

The cause of all my debilitating wrist pain was a knotted muscle near my elbow.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome, Trigger Points & Referred Pain

When you overuse a muscle, it can cause sensitive areas of tight fibres to form, creating a knot in the muscle. The point where the knot forms is called a trigger point, and pressing on it causes an achy pain.

Now, here’s the crazy part: the muscle knot at the trigger point can cause serious pain in a different part of your body. This is called referred pain.

So the pain you feel may be caused by a trigger point elsewhere. No matter how much you treat your hand or wrist, you won’t be able to fix the problem if the pain, like mine, is caused by a trigger point in your upper forearm!

Treat Yourself

Once you know where the trigger point is that’s causing your pain, you can ‘unlock’ it – and stop the referred pain – by releasing the muscle knot yourself.

I learnt this ischemic pressure technique by watching a video from Dr Jonathan Kuttner, an expert in chronic muscle and joint pain. He has a couple of quick videos that explain the process – I highly recommend you watch them:

The process is the same to ‘turn off’ any trigger point. The key is to start with low enough pressure on the trigger point so it doesn’t hurt, then to gradually increase the pressure, but never to the level where it hurts.

(From experience, I can tell you that, if you’re too forceful, you’ll end up feeling like you’ve bruised yourself, and you don’t do any good. Slow and gentle is the way to go.)

My Treatment

Coincidentally, the trigger point Jonathan demonstrates ‘turning off’ in his video is the same one that caused my carpal tunnel-like symptoms and wrist/hand pain, so I could follow the instructions in his video exactly.

I’ve never been able to feel the nodule of knotted muscle he describes, but I know I’m in the right place when I feel the tender spot on my arm.

Treating hand and wrist pain with trigger point pressure therapy on the upper forearm

In 2009, when my condition was agonising, I could press the trigger point in my arm and immediately feel the referred pain in the back of my hand and wrist! That’s what convinced me that this was a) a real phenomenon and b) the cause of my problems.

Here’s me from an email I sent in 2009 when I’d just cured myself of my supposed ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’:

The myofascial thing is amazing – my wrist was so painful I couldn’t put any pressure on it while it was at all bent, so I couldn’t even open a door or a jar without it being agonisingly painful. I got one of those wrist splint things and it helped me to avoid the pain but it didn’t get better. And then I was googling and found this AMAZING thing – basically it was a referred pain caused by a muscle knot just below my elbow. And by doing gentle acupressure [sic] with my finger on this point, I healed it! I know it sounds like rubbish, but it’s totally true – when I pushed this exact spot on my arm, I could feel the pain in my wrist, even though I wasn’t doing anything to my wrist. Total magic.

Since then, I’ve rarely had the pain escalate to the terrible point it was at. I always treat it as soon as I realise what’s happening, and the knot has never had a chance to form as badly as it was back then.

I’ve developed the same problem in the other arm too, and now I can always find the trigger point on each arm – I feel a tender ache when I press on them. I try to do the ischemic pressure treatment whenever I remember, to stop the knot from forming in the first place. This works really well for me!

Finding Other Trigger Points

There are trigger points all over the body, and you can consult a trigger point diagram (like this one) that shows the position of the trigger point (marked with an X) and the possible locations of referred pain for that point (shown as a cloud of red). You can use those to help diagnose if any of your unexplained chronic pains may be caused by trigger points, and try to deactivate them if so.

I’ve had several other problems with pain that have also turned out to be trigger point related:

  • I get pain at the base of my thumbs when I crochet (or use my phone) too much, and I’ve discovered that there are two trigger points in the thumb. Treating the lower trigger point at the base of the thumb seems to help me.
  • I also occasionally get terrible upper back pain. When I have it, I can never get comfortable and I can’t sleep for the pain. The back pain turned out to be caused by trigger points, and now when my upper back and shoulders are hurting, I can usually fix it by unlocking the trigger points in my levator scapulae or trapezius muscles. (Here’s Jonathan’s article Trigger Points for Neck Pain).

Give It a Go

I have no idea how many people with hand pains from crochet or other crafts may also actually be suffering from a simple trigger point caused by a knotted muscle in their forearm, but please do try some trigger point pressure therapy and report back here if it helps!

A couple of tips on what to expect:

  • If your pain is bad, I’ve found that it may take daily sessions over a week or two to completely turn off the trigger point, but you should be able to feel an improvement immediately.
  • Your trigger points will probably reactivate in time, but knowing where they are and how to treat them means you can fix yourself in future before the stage of agonising pain, limited function and sleepless nights.

I hope this works for you as well as it has for me.

Here’s to more crafting, with less pain! 🙂

9 Comments »

  1. Jenny said

    wow! I was familiar with this concept as it’s down a rabbit hole in the dance world, but my knowledge had faded to the background a bit. It took me a couple days of tinkering with the body map to figure out how to reveal the black x’s, but just before I figured it out, I discovered a spot that gave relief to a 13 year old neck spasm (it comes and goes, but range of motion has been limited) and a newly developed shoulder pain, both from the same trigger point. Thanks to my background in dance and anatomy, I knew where the muscle was, but it was nice to get the confirmation once I figured out the map.

    Now when my boyfriend asks me to massage his back for some recurring back pain, he will be surprised that I actually want to massage his stomach! I’ll have to have the map on standby to show him…haha!

    Thank you for sharing, I know you know pain, so I know you know how much I appreciate it! Also, I’m glad for you that you found this…here’s to a life after pain!!

  2. Carol W said

    I’m so glad you’re sharing this information. I came across a book on Trigger Points by Clair Davies (which I recommend to everyone I can) a decade or more ago and it has made a huge difference for me and anyone who’s read it. My RMT (registered massage therapist) recommends it highly as well. Trigger point treatment is completely scientific — it’s not based on anything abstract (I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with acupuncture, meridians, etc., but some people are turned off by those types of approaches). It’s purely about the tangible, mechanical relationships between muscles and joints. And best of all, it’s a simple, non-invasive way we can help manage our own muscle health!

  3. Sharon said

    June I just want to say thank you so much for sharing this. I have Fibromyalgia among a load of other things and I’ve been struggling with pain especially in my neck and shoulder for a long time. I have watched a couple of these videos and Dr. Kuttner makes it so easy to understand what’s happening with spasms/triggers and he also gives the best advice that actually helps! I have a long way to go but I now feel I can help myself properly. Thank you, Sharon x

  4. Charlotte Kidwell said

    Hi June:
    I had carpal tunnel release surgery on both wrists in 1989. The surgeries were a blessing and allowed me to continue working and enjoying life, albeit, being careful of my hands.
    While undergoing physical therapy following my surgeries, the therapist introduced me to trigger point release therapy, to help relieve pain. I can attest that this does work! It really makes sense that if muscles and nerves are bundled in a knot, this will cause pain, often at a different location on the body, as you said (referred pain). Releasing the knots is like a miracle pain reliever. The knots will eventually come back, but it’s simple to release them again.
    This technique is so important for people who use their hands in a repetitive manner, either in crafting, computer use, carpentering, etc. Thank you so much for your very important post! ???

  5. Judy said

    Checking out those links now! Thanks for passing this on! I’ll let you know what my experience is.

  6. MotherOwl (Charlotte) said

    Thank you for refreshing my memory of Trigger points. I cured myself of Plantar fasciitis using this method, so of course it would work for my hands as well. It sure feels like a miracle, but I think the science is sound.

    • June said

      I think so too – although many doctors don’t seem to consider it for a diagnosis, when I’ve spoken to massage therapists, biokineticists etc about my trigger points, they know exactly what I’m talking about and how to release them.

      I’m so glad it worked for your plantar fasciitis, Charlotte – you’ve inspired me to check the trigger point chart and see if I can find a point to fix my foot pain problem too! (Every time I have a new pain I suffer for ages before remembering there could be a trigger point behind it…)

  7. Luba Hughes said

    I get pain at the base of my thumb when I crochet too much or with yarns that are very coarse. I will give the pressure points that you recommend a try. Thank you for this article.

    • June said

      I hope it helps you, Luba! I still have to be careful not to crochet too much in a session or throughout a single day, but releasing the thumb trigger points definitely helps me 🙂

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    June Gilbank

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