What is a muscle knot, why does it happen and what you can do to relieve it
A "muscle knot" is typically an area of tissue that has become inflamed and irritated. Also known as restrictions, trigger points, pressure points, or adhesions, these areas are caused by a variety of factors:
- Stress. When you're stressed, you probably have a tendency to clench your jaw, or elevate your shoulders. These prolonged muscular contractions cause your body to build up tension and form these tender areas. Most of the time, you will feel these places (top of the shoulders anyone?) but sometimes the therapist will find trigger points you didn't know existed! (latent trigger points, you're welcome!)
- Prolonged positions/posture. If you tend to hunch over (especially while sitting), sit with one leg curled under the other, spend lots of time on your phone (numbness in the hands & fingers anyone?), or stand on one leg frequently, you may develop restrictions from your body being out of balance. Tight hips? Neck and shoulder pain? Frequent headaches? These are all signs that you need a massage to release these tender points and restore balance.
- Overuse. People that are very active in the gym, have labor-intensive jobs, or perform a lot of repetitive motions (typing, driving a manual car, construction workers, hair stylists, etc) your body may be getting worn down by these repetitive motions. These areas of pain may indicate a weakness in the muscles or joints.
- Diet and hydration. Believe it or not, your body may form trigger points as a result of a vitamin or mineral deficiency. In regards to hydration, over half of your body weight is made of water. Think of dehydrated muscle as dried out leather - just drink more water!
Is it actually a knotted bunch of tissue?
- No, your muscle does not magically whip into a bowline or monkey's fist. If feels like a hard mass or bump because of the pain-spasm-pain cycle. When muscular or fascial tissue becomes restricted or adhered, the area cannot receive adequate blood flow and nutrients. The muscle may go into spasm to try and protect itself, which causes pain and even less blood flow to the area. It is important to release these trigger points to interrupt the pain-spasm-pain cycle and restore the muscle to proper function. Remember, if you ignore a trigger point for weeks, months, or years, it may take more than one massage sessions to fully restore the tissue.
How can I relieve trigger points?
- The most effective strategy is manual therapy or massage therapy. techniques for releasing trigger points are steady pressure to the area, vibration, contract-relax techniques, and most importantly resetting the muscle. If your shoulders "think" their normal position is connected to your ear, it's important to re-educate the muscle to its proper position.
- If you have decent anatomical knowledge and you can't get to a therapist, you can help yourself by using a high density foam roller, lacrosse ball, heating pad (moist heat such as a rice-filled sock), ice pack, or other massage tools such as the Theragun/Hypervolt or Theracane to work out these areas on your own. Use these tools at your own risk and be careful to avoid joints and bony areas - you don't want to cause a bone bruise or bursitis by going too aggressively!
- Take a walk, do some gentle stretching, meditation, take a relaxing bath (bonus for adding Himalayan or Epsom Salts!) Any activity that relaxes your mind and gets your body moving will help reduce your body's tension. Remember to take care of your body, you only get one!