How to get rid of muscle knots

The next morning you wake up and find that the back of your shoulder blade feels stiff. When you rub your shoulder muscles, it feels like you’re poking a small ball of gum under your skin. Every time you try to move it, the area feels tight, with a bit of pain.

Over the next few days your back will slowly relax and eventually your shoulder will feel normal again. However, it’s probably something you’ll want to avoid or minimize if possible in the future. So what was up with that muscle knot?

I’m an exercise physiologist. The goal of much of my research is to understand how different movements and forms of exercise stress the muscles. Inventing programs to maximize performance, whatever the training goal, goes beyond what needs to be done during training—it’s also about how best to prepare for and recover from the body’s stress points.

Some of the most common questions I’ve heard during my years as a personal trainer and researcher in the field involve muscle knots. What are they and how can you get rid of them when they appear?

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What are muscle knots?

The knots you discover in your muscle, which can feel as small as a marble or even as big as a golf ball, are called myofascial trigger points. The fascia is the thin layer of connective tissue that surrounds the muscle.

When your muscle becomes damaged – even a little – it can lead to inflammation in the muscle ligaments and the overlying fascial layer. And that lump of inflamed tissue is a myofascial trigger point. The small lumps are usually tender to the touch and can limit your range of motion or cause pain with various movements. Muscle knots don’t show up on medical imaging scans, and researchers are still trying to figure out the exact physiological mechanisms within the muscle that cause this reaction.

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Myofascial trigger points tend to develop when a muscle is irritated by a new or more strenuous than usual repetitive movement. For example, during a particularly intense day of exercise, you may develop knots in the muscles that you worked the most. They can also show up when you introduce a new movement pattern into your daily workout.

Imagine adding a few days of running to your typical weekly routine of just lifting weights. Since running is a new movement, you may notice some knots in your calves that have asked for a lot of new work.

However, you don’t have to be a gym rat to be familiar with muscle knots. For example, if you sit hunched over a computer all day, you may notice knots developing in your upper back and shoulders. Most people wouldn’t find sitting at a desk tiring, but holding one position for hours does put a strain on your muscles. Enter muscle knots.

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How do you get rid of muscle knots?

One of the simplest solutions to the muscle knot problem is to just wait. Muscles need time to adapt to a new movement or to recover from stress. Usually, a muscle knot will resolve on its own within a week or two.
A massage is an option to speed recovery if you have muscle knots.
They can also help speed up the recovery process. Some options include massages; dry needling, in which a thin needle is injected into the trigger point to try to break up some of the tissue and increase blood flow to the area; and even electrical stimulation. The goal of any technique is to decrease tension in the fascia and muscles in that area and increase blood flow. More blood flowing through it supplies damaged tissues with nutrients and oxygen, which promotes recovery.
While these techniques are worth considering, there are other less expensive things you can do yourself at home. A fairly easy way to relieve muscle knots is by stretching. Stretching can be especially valuable if you typically sit in an awkward position all day. Muscles that are kept under constant stress for several hours benefit from going through different ranges of motion. For example, after sitting for a while, some simple shoulder rolls and neck twists can relieve some of the tension in these muscles and help prevent or reduce muscle knot build-up.
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Another method you can try at home is called self-myofascial release. The idea behind this is the same as massaging, except this method can be done in the comfort of your own home with a foam roller, roller machine, a hard ball like a lacrosse ball or softball, or even a small piece of polyvinyl chloride. or PVC, pipe.
To release muscle knots, lie on a foam roller and gently roll your leg back and forth.

For example, if you have knots in the quadriceps muscle group at the front of your thigh, you can lie on a foam roller and gently roll your leg back and forth on it. Alternatively, you can roll the machine up and down the muscle group and keep the pressure within your comfort zone. Because you’re applying as much pressure as you like, you can work within your own pain tolerance — an advantage since relieving myofascial trigger points can be uncomfortable. You can use this technique anywhere you have muscle knots.

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While they can be annoying, muscle knots are nothing to worry about. Remember that sticking to your exercise habits and exercise throughout the day can help prevent knots from developing in your muscles at all. If you notice muscle knots emerging, simply stretching at the end of the day or performing some self-myofascial relaxation techniques are simple, effective ways to relieve this problem and prevent future problems.

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The conversation

Zachary Gillen is an assistant professor of exercise physiology at Mississippi State University. Gillen does not work for, advise, own any interest in, or receive funding from any companies or organizations that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations other than academic appointments. The State of Mississippi is funding as a member of The Conversation US.

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