Protecting "Trigger Point" for the Massage Profession: A Case Study

Learn how AMTA-led advocacy efforts saved the term "trigger point" for use by massage therapists. 

hands and scales of justice

Massage therapists have a common shared language of profession-related terms they use with clients and with each other. It would be absurd for one of these terms to suddenly be unavailable to massage therapists for their everyday use. Imagine if a massage therapist had to get permission or pay a fee to talk to their clients about “muscle relaxation,” “stress relief,” or even “massage” itself. As far-fetched as this may seem, this was almost the case for “trigger point.”

What is Trigger Point Massage?

Trigger point massage focuses on relieving trigger points, which are small, tight knots that develop in muscles that may also cause pain in other areas of the body such as the neck or back. It is an integral part of massage techniques such as myofascial release. This generic term — used as both “trigger point” for what area or point on the body massage is treating and “trigger point massage” as a massage form — has been in use for decades. However, this term could have been taken away from massage therapists without the swift action of AMTA.

Use of “Trigger Point” Under Threat

In March of 2017, AMTA became aware of a pending application to register the term “triggerpoint” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The application was filed by Implus Footcare, LLC, and sought exclusive rights to the term so they could sell branded items such as massage rollers, DVDs, and books using the term “triggerpoint.”

The USPTO approved Implus Footcare’s application, the last stage of the trademark process before a certificate is issued and a trademark is registered. Implus Footcare was also sending cease and desist letters to organizations that were using the term “trigger point” and demanding they stop using the term without Implus Footcare’s approval.  Their enforcement of this trademark would mean that no massage therapist, massage educator, or continuing education provider could use the term without permission in certain contexts and could be subject to legal action if they did not obtain that permission. The potential impact to the massage profession, where the term had been in generic use for decades, was substantial.

The Fight for Trigger Point

AMTA decided to take immediate action and challenge the trademark application. At the direction of the Board of Directors, AMTA filed a formal objection against the trademark application. The action slowed the approval process down and allowed time for the massage profession to be made aware of Implus Footcare’s intentions and to participate in AMTA-led advocacy to protect the use of “trigger point.”

This advocacy effort included a petition initiated at the AMTA 2017 National Convention that garnered more than 13,000 signatures from individuals and schools opposing the trademark application. In addition, more than 40 businesses and individuals filed requests for more time to consider opposition to the trademark application. AMTA worked to oppose the claim to restrict the use of “trigger point,” including engaging legal assistance to block the trademark registration and to encourage Implus Footcare to change its position. AMTA was the only professional association to take this action on behalf of the massage therapy profession to defend the use of “trigger point” and protect the rights of massage therapists, massage educators, and others. 

The Use of “Trigger Point” Is Protected

After a three-year effort, AMTA achieved a successful outcome. Implus Footcare agreed to amend its trademark application so the term will be a trademark only in connection with its massage products and devices. Due to the advocacy effort led by AMTA, individuals and organizations throughout the massage profession can continue to use the term into the future without restrictions, and the rights of massage therapists and educators have been protected.