We’ve all had the experience of tension in our shoulders or back only to find the tension radiating from a knot in a particular muscle. These muscle knots are painful to the touch and can feel like someone actually tied our muscles up. But what are they? Here’s everything you need to know to get rid of muscle knots and prevent them from coming back:
What Causes Muscle Knots?
The medical term for muscle knots is myofascial trigger points, which is quite a mouthful for such a common problem. There is some debate among doctors about what causes muscle knots but it seems to be connected to an abnormal build up of protein after a release of lactic acid.
Muscles that form knots are muscles that have gone into a muscle spasm either due to injury, overuse, or a sedentary lifestyle, and then have remained “stuck” in that tense state. A muscle knot is your muscle remaining flexed and refusing to relax, which is a big part of the reason they can be so painful.
While many people tend to believe that a muscle knot is most likely due to a “pulled muscle” or an overuse injury, the most common cause of these muscle knots is a sedentary lifestyle containing short bursts of activity. If you sit hunched over at a computer all day, you train your muscles to behave abnormally, which will make it more difficult to prevent injury when you exercise.
How Can I Make Them Go Away?
Because muscle knots are caused by inflammation in the muscle, taking a NSAID drug like ibuprofen will help with the pain and can sometimes help with the inflammation as well. If you have only a few knots, the very best way to encourage them to go away is to massage them briefly several times a day for several days. Massaging these knots can be painful, and you should be exerting targeted force directly on the knots. However, this sort of massage over a period of days both helps the inflammation to go down and “trains” your muscles to relax. If you have numerous or very painful muscle knots, the best thing you can do is see a licensed massage therapist.
How Can I Prevent This From Happening Again?
Periodic muscle knots are inevitable, but if you’re getting a lot of them, there are several factors to examine. Potassium and calcium help to prevent muscle knots, and remaining hydrated can work wonders.
Become more mindful of the way you move your body. Avoid hunching over, and when you are at work or school, take frequent breaks to walk around. Stretch both before and after you exercise, and do not do exercises that are intensely painful. Pain during exercise is an indication that your muscle is too weak to perform the movement, not that you should “push through” the pain!
Some people have had good luck with “Awareness Through Movement” programs and Trigger Point Massage books. Here are some links to both: