Everyone’s muscles get knotted up now and again – especially in areas like the back and neck where we carry most of our tension throughout the day.
What causes them, though, and more importantly, how can we make them go away?
Exercise physiologist Zachary Gillen has some thoughts on both answers.
First off, the official name for muscle knots are myofascial trigger points. The fascia is a thin layer of connective tissue that surrounds the muscle, and when the muscle gets damaged at all, inflammation in the fascia can result.
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The clumps of inflamed tissue are usually tender to the touch and can limit your range of motion due to pain.
You’ll typically suffer from these trigger points when you’ve tried a new activity or have gone harder than normal at a sport or in the gym. Alternatively, sitting hunched over your computer all day, or holding any position for a length of time, also puts stress on your muscles.
So, once they’re there, how do we get rid of them?
The easiest, but perhaps most painful, answer is simply to wait. It takes your muscles time to adapt to new motions and routines, but within a week or two, any resulting knots should resolve without intervention.
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If you’re in serious pain, you can help the recovery process along with things like massage, dry needling, or electrical stimulation. Each of these techniques aims to decrease the tautness of the muscle and fascia and increase blood flow to the area in the process.
More blood passing through the tissue provides nutrients and oxygen, which speeds recovery.
Gillen says there are techniques you can use at home, too, such as simply stretching. For example, if you sit at your desk all day, do some shoulder rolls and neck rotations when you stand up.
Image Credit: Zachary Gillen
Another at-home option is self-myofascial release, which involves using a foam roller of some type, a hard ball, or piece of PVC pipe. Roll your chosen device back and forth over the sore spots and hope it will do the same trick as a professional massage.
In the end, these knots are nothing to worry about long term. Keep exercising, keep stretching, and eventually everything will work itself out.