Monday 5th July, 2021
  Categories: Practitioners

The large but overlooked cause of slow reaction time in sports

Rafael Nadal
Studies show (myofascial) trigger points slow muscle reaction time by over 100 milliseconds

There are a large number of things that can affects a sports persons reaction time such as fatigue, alcohol, lack of sleep and dehydration, but for otherwise healthy alert sports people probably the most common and significant yet overlooked cause of slow reaction times and slow reflexes are myofascial trigger points. A study published in the British Journal of Applied science and technology found that active trigger points slow the response of a muscle by over 100 milliseconds (one tenth of a second). To put this into perspective if Rafael Nadal was facing a 200kph serve the ball would travel over 5.5m during those 100 milliseconds.
In this article we will briefly discuss what trigger points are and what the study found, then what you can do to eliminate any trigger points that may be affecting you.

CONTENTS

Summary of effects of trigger points on reaction times
The effects of trigger points on sports performance and injuries
What are trigger points
The treatment of trigger points
Getting started
Professionals
References

Summary of effects of trigger points on reaction times

The researchers (1) compared the reaction times for seven different muscles, with and without (myofascial) trigger points. The results are averaged and summarised in the table. The researchers were able to measure two things:

Premotor reaction time

This is the time taken from from when the person was given an auditory stimulus (noise) to when the nerve signal reached the muscle.

Motor reaction time

This is the time taken from when the muscle received the nerve signal to when it started to contract.

In summary, the results show that when trigger points were present it took longer for the nervous system to determine the correct response, then when the nerve signal arrived there was an extra delay of about 70 milliseconds before the muscle reacted.

Reaction time chart
Chart: the effects of trigger points on reaction times

The effects of trigger points on sports performance and injuries

Altered timing

It is shown that trigger points can delay the reaction time of muscles by about one tenth of a second. This will not only alter speed and timing, but the movements required for sports require timing for coordination. This altered timing will effect accuracy, coordination, biomechanical efficiency and may even predispose to injury.

Pain

Although trigger points commonly only hurt when a therapist presses upon them, when they do cause pain they are responsible for a great number of musculoskeletal pain syndromes.

Other effects

Trigger points cause muscle to become tight, restrict their blood blood flow, and inhibit them from functioning normally. This adversely effects posture and biomechanics. Even without referring pain, trigger points will do the following (2-4). For more information please see our article Trigger point basics It is important to note that trigger points do this, even when not causing pain.

  • restrict ranges of motion
  • create tightness which can cause injury
  • cause muscle weakness
  • cause muscle fatigue
  • alter muscle activations (alter neurological control of movement)
  • induce muscle cramps, and
  • affect posture and joint function, creating further issues.
Trigger point
Trigger points are the tender lumps in your muscles therapists find

What are trigger points

Trigger points are those tender lumps in muscles that therapists find. We have a lot more information about what these are and what they do in our separate article trigger point basics.

The treatment of trigger points

In this section we will give an overview of how trigger points are treated. We will first discuss how trigger point therapies work, then how these can be incorporated into a plan to eliminate your trigger points and keep yourself trigger point free.

Trigger point: positive feedback loop

Effective treatments

To understand effective trigger point treatments we need to have a basic understanding of what they are and how they form. As this diagram shows they start with part of the muscle going into spasm, which causes tightness restricting blood flow. This causes a build up of toxic wastes which causes further spasm. This keeps going around in circles getting gradually worse over time. To break this loop an effective treatment needs to address one or more of these issues. It is for this reason that there so many different therapies used to treat trigger points and trigger point related pain. We have massage techniques, dry needling, lasers, stretch and freeze therapy, and the list goes on. As long as they address at least one issue they will have some effect (5,6).

Number of treatments

Clinical trials show that courses of 3-12 sessions of therapy reduce pain but eliminate less than one third of trigger points (7-9). Therefore a very large number of treatments are necessary to eliminate trigger points properly. Please see our article Trigger point treatments: deactivate or eliminate for more detail.

Vibration: trigger point therapy
Vibration massage works on all the issues

Our choice of therapy

Vibration massage has been scientifically proven to address all the major issues of a trigger point. It disrupts spasm, relaxes muscles, increases blood flow, and the increased blood flow flushes the build up of wastes. For more details please see our article: The scientific effects of vibration massage with clinical applications.

Further, it takes no special skill or knowledge to apply vibration massage, so it is ideal for home use. Because of the large number of therapy applications needed effective treatment needs to include some home treatment, otherwise it becomes unaffordable and inconvenient.

Getting started treating your trigger points

Although self treatment with a vibration massager is very simple, trigger points can be part of more complex issues. It is also good to have a professional advise how to find them and where to apply the therapy. To get started you will need to find a good professional who understands trigger points. If you go to our get a massager page then select your country you should find near the top a link to a list of clinics that may be able to help. Alternatively, you can find a qualified professional such as a Chiropractor, Osteopath or Physiotherapist and discuss this with him or her.

Getting a suitable vibration massager.

You will need an effective vibration massager. There is a lot of miss-information and ineffective machines available. I’ve linked some information below to help you choose, or you can use the safe option and get one of ours.
Video: How to choose a massager
Article: Percussion vs vibration massage
Video: Our highly effective vibration massager

Professional at desk
Professionals: click image to find out more and possibly trial vibration massage

Professionals

DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page.

References

  1. Yassin M, Talebian S, Takamjani I, Maroufi N, Ahmadi A, Sarrafzadeh J, et al. Arm Flexion Influence on Muscle Reaction Time in Females with Active Myofascial Trigger Point. Br J Appl Sci Technol. 2015;11(1):1–9.
  2. Ge HY, Arendt-Nielsen L, Madeleine P. [Accelerated muscle fatigability of latent myofascial trigger points in humans]. Pain Med (United States). 2012;13(7):957–64.
  3. Celik D, Yeldan P. The relationship between latent trigger point and muscle strength in healthy subjects: A double-blind study. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2011;24(4):251–6.
  4. Celik D, Mutlu EK. Clinical implication of latent myofascial trigger point topical collection on myofascial pain. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2013;17(8).
  5. Simons DG. Understanding effective treatments of myofascial trigger points. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2002;6(2):81–8.
  6. Dommerholt J, Bron C, Franssen J. Myofascial Trigger Points: An Evidence-Informed Review. J Man Manip Ther. 2006;14(4):203–21.
  7. Bron C, De Gast A, Dommerholt J, Stegenga B, Wensing M, Oostendorp RAB. Treatment of myofascial trigger points in patients with chronic shoulder pain: A randomized, controlled trial. BMC Med. 2011;9.
  8. Gerber LH, Shah J, Rosenberger W, Armstrong K, Turo D, Otto P, et al. Dry Needling Alters Trigger Points in the Upper Trapezius Muscle and Reduces Pain in Subjects With Chronic Myofascial Pain. PM&R [Internet]. 2015;7(7):711–8. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pmrj.2015.01.020
  9. Grieve R, Barnett S, Coghill N, Cramp F. Myofascial trigger point therapy for triceps surae dysfunction: A case series. Man Ther . 2013;18:519–25.

We are continually adding more information on research and uses. Subscribe below to have us email them to you "hot off the press".

Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more



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