So, what causes knots in muscles?
It’s probably the most common question I get asked whilst I’m digging my elbow into some poor, unsuspecting upper back.
So, here we go…
Muscles are made up of numerous bundles of muscle fibres. Muscles work by contracting and releasing those bundles to form movement. Knots are points within a muscle where those fibres contract but are unable to release, or, as the dictionary states ‘highly irritable localised spots of exquisite tenderness in a nodule in palpable taut bands of muscle tissue’.
They cause pain in 2 ways:
- latent trigger points - which are knots that only hurt when you (or I!) dig into them.
- active trigger points - knots that actively refer pain along neural pathways causing it in non-localised areas.
The problem with these trigger point ‘bad boys’ is that when they are in a permanent state of contraction, blood flow stops and metabolic waste builds up…this sends pain signals to the brain. And because the brain is a clever old soul, it wants the pain to stop and it ‘tells’ the muscle to rest. This leads to under-usage of the muscle, making the muscle shorten (not good) and tighten (ouch!).
There are lots of things that cause it:
- direct trauma ie a sports injury
- postural stress ie all that desk work and driving
- overstimulation ie strenuous exercise (especially lifting weights)
So, we now understand what they are and what causes them; but what can we do about them?
Well, people like me (massage therapists) help because we can help release those trigger points by massaging and loosening these muscle fibres that aren’t behaving. This, therefore, increases the blood flow to the area. That blood flow causes inflammation, which is the first stage of the healing process. The inflammation is sometimes why people can feel sore and tender after a deep tissue massage but it’s completely normal and is a crucial stage of helping the body recover.
However, you can start to release these trigger points yourself by getting onto a foam roller or using a massage ball to roll out the muscle as much as you can. Recovery from exercise is just as important as the exercise itself. It’s boring, and often the first thing that gets missed out from a training session because we ‘run out of time’, but hopefully you can see that tight knots are the body’s way of telling us that something’s not right. Train hard by all means but treat your body with a bit of TLC…it’s only stopping you from trying to hurt yourself. Who else is going to look after no.1 except you?…and ME!