Muscle knots can hit you at any point after a workout. For example, after a strenuous upper-body workout, you might wake up feeling a tightness in the back of your shoulder blade. Upon investigation, you may feel a small knot, which is tender to the touch, and slightly painful when you move it. If you recognize this situation, you might be wondering how you can avoid muscle knots in the future. But first, it’s useful to understand - what exactly are muscle knots and how do they develop?
A muscle knot is also known as a myofascial trigger point. This is a small clump of inflamed tissue in the muscle and fascia (the thin layer of connective tissue that surrounds the muscle). A muscle knot is typically caused by damage to the muscle, even if it is minor, which leads to inflammation. These knots can limit your range of motion and cause pain during different movements. Unlike other medical conditions, muscle knots do not show up on scans, and their exact physiological mechanisms are still being studied.
Myofascial trigger points tend to develop when a muscle is irritated by a new or more strenuous than your bodies’ usual repetitive motion. For instance, during an intense workout, the muscles that are stressed the most are more likely to develop knots. Similarly, if you introduce a new movement pattern to your daily workout, you may notice knots in the muscles that have been asked to do new work. For example, if you are used to just lifting weights and then add running to your routine, you may notice knots in your calves as they are doing a lot of new work that you are not used to yet.
It's not just athletes who are prone to muscle knots, however. People who sit at a desk all day and are consistently hunched over their computers may also develop knots in their upper back and shoulders. This is because holding one position for hours places stress on the muscles and can result in knots developing.
So, how do you get rid of muscle knots? The good news is that the solution is often as simple as waiting. It takes time for the muscles to recover from stress, and usually within a week or two a muscle knot will resolve on its own. In the meantime, there are ways to speed up the recovery process.
One option is to get a massage, which can decrease the tautness of the fascia and muscle in the affected area and increase blood flow. Another option is dry needling, where a thin needle is injected into the trigger point to break up the tissue and increase blood flow. Electrical stimulation is yet another option that can help alleviate muscle knots.
If you prefer more cost-effective solutions, stretching is a great place to start. If you typically sit in an awkward position all day, stretching can be particularly beneficial as it can help alleviate some of the tension in your muscles, preventing the accumulation of muscle knots. For example, after sitting for a while, doing simple shoulder rolls and neck rotations can help reduce the tension in those muscles.
Another option is self-myofascial release, which is similar to massage and can be done at home using a foam roller, rolling device, or a hard ball. For instance, if you have knots on the front of your thigh, you can lie on a foam roller and gently roll your leg back and forth on it. This way, you can control the pressure and work within your own pain tolerance, making it a comfortable way to alleviate myofascial trigger points.
Yoga can also help in alleviating pain if you have persistent muscle knots. Poses such as sphinx, sun salutations and seated twist can help to relieve pain, especially in the back of the neck. Remember to breathe deeply to help deepen the stretch. You might need to practice yoga and do these stretches for a couple of weeks to get rid of stubborn muscle knots, but once the pain is gone, less frequent practice can sustain your results.
In conclusion, muscle knots can be a minor annoyance, but they are nothing to worry about. By being consistent with exercise habits and moving throughout the day, you can help prevent knots from developing in your muscles. If you do notice knots, simple stretching or self-myofascial release will help you feel better in no time.
By Amy Cavill
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