Have you ever been doing something completely unremarkable, like taking the trash out, only to feel the sudden twinge of muscle pain between your shoulder blades or in your lower back? Sometimes we get these unpleasant surprises when we’re doing nothing at all; just sitting at the computer or relaxing on the couch. Either way, no one loves muscle knots, which is what we’ve come to (un)lovingly call these little buggers.
If you’ve ever suffered from muscle knots, you know what a literal pain they can be, you’ve probably wondered why you get them, and more importantly, how the heck you can get rid of them. Well, wonder no more because we’ll take you through all of the ins and outs of these little twinges, and give you some strategies for banishing them. You shouldn’t have to suffer through pain–you have work to do!
What is A Muscle Knot Exactly?
A muscle knot is the lay term for what are also known as trigger points, sometimes abbreviated as TrP. These are sensitive points all over your body, but mostly on the back and neck that are particularly sensitive to irritation.
The tissue that connects your muscle to your bone is called the fascia, and because so many trigger points occur in deep tissue, muscle knots are also sometimes called myofascial pain. There is a bit of disagreement as to how muscle knots form, but most believe that it has something to do with the nerves misfiring and causing the muscle to tense or spasm involuntarily and bunch up. Voila! That’s your muscle knot right there, and the effect can be anything from mild discomfort to intense pain. Even if we aren’t 100% sure what causes muscle knots, we do know for sure how to identify them. Muscle knots are:
- Pain that occurs in the fascia or skeletal muscle.
- Nodules or banded muscle that can be felt when palpating the point.
- Reproducible when the trigger point is palpated.
Basically, all of that is fancy talk for feeling a deep tissue pain, which, when you touch it, feels like a little bump, taut rubber band, or–you guessed it–knot.
Where Muscle Knots Occur
Muscle knots can occur all over the body, but there are a couple of “big bads”, or spots where you’re more likely to get a muscle knot. We mentioned before that the majority of muscle knots happen in the myofascial region of your back, but there are a couple of spots that are notoriously vulnerable:
- Trapezius- the big muscle that runs from your neck to between your shoulder blades.
- Latissimus dorsi and erector spinae-these muscles are your lower back muscles, and are particularly prone to muscle knots.
- Semispinalis capiti-the muscle that runs to the base of your skull. Muscle knots here are the gift that keeps on giving–they can cause migraines and fatigue.
- Gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus-pretty much each and everyone of your derriere muscles can give you a nice muscle knot and a limp. Ouch!
Back pain is no joke, and there are a number of things that you can do about alleviating it, if you’re willing to learn. If you’re certain that muscle knots are causing your pain, read on! While it might not seem that there’s any upside to muscle knots, there actually is. It’s completely treatable, which means you don’t have to suffer as long as you’ve got the magic touch.
Treating Muscle Knots With Pressure
It might seem counter intuitive, but applying pressure to your muscle knots can actually help relieve them. In fact, rubbing, massaging, or pushing on a muscle knot is actually instinctual for a lot of people. Of course, you have to know how to do it. It also helps if you can actually reach the darn thing. Here are some ways to relieve muscle knots using pressure.
- Use a tennis ball on particularly stubborn knots by rolling the ball over the tender trigger points. If you can’t reach your muscle knots or are prone to nasty ones on your trapezius or lower back you might want to get a foam roller, which you can use solo by lying on the floor and positioning the foam roller in the desired position. Put your weight on the roller and move back and forth to apply pressure evenly and relax your muscle knots.
- Delving a little bit more into the finer points of sports massage can really do the trick, especially if you tend to experience your muscle knots after periods of exertion or activity.
- Some chronic sufferers of muscle knots swear by alternative therapies like acupressure, which can treat pain from satellite or secondary pressure points. The best part about learning acupressure techniques is that you can apply them to yourself–no partner required if you can’t reach those little pains.
Treating Muscle Knots With Heat
Applying heat is another great way to relieve the pain that muscle knots cause. Running yourself a nice warm bath and languishing in it might just be all that it takes to relax the pain away. If that doesn’t do the trick, you may need to apply heat directly to the trigger point, which can be achieved using a heating pad or warming oil.
Hot stone massage, on the other hand, can be a multitasker. On one hand, you’re applying heat to the affected area, and on the other hand, you are using principles that are similar to acupressure to alleviate your muscle knots. As a bonus, hot stone massage is sometimes used to treat stress, which is suspected to be an underlying cause of muscle knots.
Treating Muscle Knots Using Hydration
Most of us don’t get enough to drink. There’s some debate about whether or not the conventional wisdom of “eight glasses of water a day” is overkill, but if you are experiencing frequent muscle knots or an increase in them, it could mean that it is time to adjust your water consumption by drinking more water. You can achieve this pretty easily by making sure that you always have a water bottle on hand, or by simply setting a reminder on your phone that will pester you until you down a glass of H20. It’s definitely worth a try.
Preventing Muscle Knots Completely
Though we’re not entirely sure how muscle knots form, there are a number of factors that seem to point to an increase in their occurrence. By eliminating certain things or adding others to your lifestyle, you may be able to win the battle over your trigger points once and for all. There are a few things that you can do every day to lower the risk of getting these pesky little twinges.
- Quit smoking
There are plenty of reasons to quit smoking, so here’s another good one: it appears that smoking is linked to an increase in muscle knots and inflammation of the fascia. You might find that by putting your cigarette habit out, you’ll deal with these twinges a lot less.
- Change your routine
Couch potatoes get muscle knots too! Spending a lot of time in one spot can irritate your muscles, so if you have a sedentary job, it is in your best interest to take frequent breaks and walk around. This can also keep your muscles from tensing up from inactivity.
- Stretch it out
If you do already exercise, you can’t skip the stretch. A lot of people take the time to warm up before a run or workout, but skip the post-sweat stretch completely. Taking just a few minutes to flex and extend your weary muscles after you hit the gym or the track will lower your chance of getting muscle knots.
- Improve your posture
Muscle knots that occur in the trapezius might be due to poor posture, so try and remind yourself to square your shoulders and straighten your spine. Keeping yourself supported at your work station can help prevent the aches and pains of hunching over. You can also try sitting on a balance ball instead of a chair, or opt to use a standing workstation.
- Up your calcium intake
There is some evidence that suggests calcium and nerve response are intertwined. By upping your calcium, you can reduce the amount of muscle knots you experience. You can try a supplement or choose foods that are high in calcium like milk and leafy greens.
Muscle knots are no fun, that’s for sure. But now that you know what they are and how to treat them, you’re well on your way to feeling a whole lot better. From here you can look at some easy yoga routines that will get you in the habit of stretching, which will ultimately keep you limber and pain free. On the other hand, you might want to learn a little about the benefits of maintaining good posture to keep these nasty knots at bay. Wherever you go from here, we hope that you’ll soon be feeling much better!