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?
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?
What are muscle knots?
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.
How to get rid of muscle knots?
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.
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.