Most over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers temporarily ease aches and pains, but these medications do not address the root cause of the problem. In a surprising number of cases, muscular tightness is responsible for common types of pain.

Here's what happens: When any one of the more than 200 muscles in your body suffers from overuse or an injury, it can develop a trigger point—a tiny knot in which a strand of the muscle becomes constricted, making the muscle stiff and weak.

Left untreated, this condition can persist for years, causing pain to recur repeatedly. Fortunately, you can relieve this type of pain with a simple technique known as trigger-point therapy. It involves locating the associated trigger points and compressing them for 20 to 30 seconds several times a (lay. Press only hard enough to feel the tightness of the muscle and the soreness of the trigger point. Stretches for each condition (as shown) also should be repeated several times daily.

Helpful: Whenever possible, also apply 20 minutes of moist heat once or twice a day to the affected muscle. Moist heat brings blood and body fluids to the muscle, increasing circulation. (Moist heating pads by Cara, Sunbeam or Thennophore can be purchased at most drug-stores for $20 to $50.)

If you've waited on your muscles for several days and felt little or no relief, check with your doctor to make sure there is no other source of pain, such as arthritis.

Conditions often caused by trigger points—and how to treat them…

Stiff Neck

Stiff neck frequently occurs after sleeping with your head turned all the way to one side, or as a result of holding a phone between your ear and shoulder. The condition is often due to a trigger point in the levator scapulae muscle, which runs from the inner edge of the shoulder blade to the neck.

To find the trigger point: Reach the hand that is on your pain-free side over to touch your shoulder on the painful side. Locate the inside edge of the shoulder blade, then move your hand a hit closer to your spine, feeling for a hard band the size of a pencil running up toward your neck. While bending your neck toward your pain-free side, use your fingers to locate a tender spot along this band, then press it for 20 to 30 seconds.

Helpful stretch: Turn your chin 30 degrees away from the affected side, then drop your chin down slightly toward your chest. Hold for a slow count of 20.

Hip, Buttock And Leg Pain

Pain in the hips, buttocks or legs is often diagnosed as sciatica (pain in your back that radiates into your buttocks and legs) when it actually may be caused by trigger points in the muscles of the back and buttocks. One of these muscles, the gluteus medius, lies midway between the top of your pelvis and the top of your thigh bone.

To find the trigger point: Lie on the floor on your pain-free side with your knees slightly bent, and use your fingers to massage your hip under the top of your pelvis and down toward the top of your thigh bone. If trigger points are present, you'll feel taut bands and tender spots. Once you've located a tender spot, roll onto your painful side and place a tennis ball between this spot and the floor. Then let your weight press the ball into the tender area for 20 to 30 seconds.

Helpful stretch: Stand facing a wall with your arms raised and the backs of your hands pressed against your forehead. Cross your pain-free leg in front of your other leg. Bend the knee of your rear leg into the back of your pain-free leg while shifting your weight onto your painful hip. This should create a stretch between your pelvis and the top of your thigh bone. I fold for a slow count of 20.

Calf Pain

If you're experiencing pain or soreness in your calf or the back of your knee, it may be caused by trigger points in the gastrocnemius muscle (the large muscle that gives the calf its characteristic shape).

To find the trigger point: Sit in a chair and place the sole of the foot of your affected leg on a footstool or coffee table in front of you. Place one hand on the outer side of this leg and the other on the inner side of this leg—in both cases, just above the ankle. Run your fingers along your Achilles tendon (the large tendon at the back of your heel) and work your way to the middle of the calf, feeling for tender spots. Continue upward, toward the back of the knee. When you find a tender spot, compress it with your fingers for 20 to 30 seconds.

Helpful stretch: While standing about 12 inches from a wall, facing the wall, place your k3 1„ hands on the wall at chest level. Keeping your feet hip-width apart and the toes of both feet facing the wall, mow your painful leg 18 inches behind the other leg. Bend your front knee, keeping your rear leg straight. Your weight should remain on the front leg. Hold for a slow count of 20.

Tennis Elbow

Inflammation of the tendon on the outside of the elbow, known as 'tennis elbow; can cause sharp pain down the back of the forearm into the wrist, making it hard to grip objects. How-ever, sometimes the condition may not be an inflammation but a result of trigger points in the extensor muscles of the hand and fingers, which can be caused by repeated or forceful gripping, such as when holding a tennis racket—or even a coffee cup.

To find the trigger point: Rest the elbow and forearm of your sore arm on a table, with your palm facing up. Use your opposite hand to feel along the muscle on the outside (thumb side) of your elbow crease, then follow this muscle down toward your hand. When you find a tender spot, press down and hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

Helpful stretch: Sit on a chair, and keeping your elbow straight, place the back of the hand on the affected arm flat on the seat beside you, palm up, feeling a stretch in your forearm. Hold for a slow count of 20.

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