How to get rid of muscle knots

The next morning you wake up and the back of your shoulder feels tight. When you rub your shoulder muscles, it feels like a little gum is forming under your skin. Every time you try to move it, it feels tight and a little painful.

Over the next few days, your lower back will gradually relax and eventually your shoulder will feel normal. This is something you’ll probably want to avoid or minimize if possible in the future. So what happened to this muscle knot?

I am an exercise physiologist. Much of my research focuses on understanding how different movements and forms of exercise stress muscles. Regardless of the training goal, designing programs to maximize performance goes beyond what to do during exercise — and how to best prepare for and recover from exercise stressors on the body.

Some of the most common questions I hear in my years as a personal trainer and researcher in this field involve muscle knots. What are they and how to get rid of them when they appear?

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What are muscle knots?

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

Any injury to your muscles — even the slightest — can cause inflammation in the muscle bands and the overlying fascial layer. And that group of inflamed tissues is a myofascial trigger point. Small bumps are usually tender to the touch and may limit range of motion or cause pain during various movements. Muscle knots are invisible on medical imaging scans, and researchers are still trying to determine the exact physiological mechanisms in the muscle that cause this reaction.

Myofascial trigger points occur when a muscle is irritated by a new or repetitive movement that is harder than usual. For example, during a particularly intense day of exercise, you may develop knots in the muscles you stress the most. If you incorporate a new movement pattern into your daily exercise routine, they may also occur.

Imagine just adding a few days of running to your usual weekly weight lifting regimen. Since running is a new movement, you may notice some knots in your calves that you’re asking to do a lot of new things.

You don’t have to be a gym rat to learn about muscle mass. For example, if you sit at a computer all day, you may notice knots forming on your back and shoulders. Most people don’t consider sitting at a desk to be strenuous, but holding one position for hours on end puts stress on the muscles. Enter muscle knots.

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How to get rid of muscle knots?

One of the simplest solutions to the problem of muscle knots is to simply wait. Muscles need time to adjust to a new movement or recover from stress. Usually, the muscle knot resolves on its own within a week or two.
You can also help speed up the recovery process. Some options include massage; dry needling, which involves inserting a thin needle into a trigger point to try to break up some tissue and increase blood flow to the area; and even electrical stimulation. The goal of each technique is to reduce tension on the fascia and muscles in the area and increase blood flow. Increased blood flow provides nutrients and oxygen to damaged tissues, enhancing recovery.
While these methods are worth considering, there are other more cost-effective things you can do yourself at home. A very simple way to relieve muscle knots is to stretch. Stretching can be especially valuable if you sit in an uncomfortable position all day. Muscles benefit from being held under consistent stress for hours and going through different ranges of motion. For example, after sitting for a while, rolling the shoulders and neck can relieve muscle tension and help prevent or reduce the build-up of muscle knots.
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Another method you can try at home is called self-myofascial release. The idea behind it is the same as massaging, but it can be done at home with a foam roller, a roller, a hard ball like a lacrosse or softball, or even a small piece of polyvinyl chloride. or PVC pipe.
To relieve muscle knots, lie on a foam roller and gently roll your legs 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 pad and gently roll your legs back and forth on it. Alternatively, you can move the device up and down the muscle group, keeping the pressure within your comfort range. Because you can apply as much pressure as you like, you can work on your pain tolerance—a benefit since relieving myofascial trigger points can be uncomfortable. You can use this technique anywhere on your muscles.

Although they can be annoying, muscle knots are nothing to worry about. Remember, maintaining a consistent exercise routine and moving throughout the day will help prevent knots in your muscles. If you notice muscle knots, simply stretching at the end of the day or using self-myofascial release techniques are simple, effective ways to help alleviate the problem and avoid future problems.

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A talk

Zachary Gillen is an assistant professor of exercise physiology at Mississippi State University. Gillen does not work for, consult with, own stock in, or receive funding from any company or organization that could benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations other than an academic appointment. Mississippi State provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

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