What Are ‘Knots’ in Muscles and How Do You Treat Them?

By Joe Neely, Massagetique Correspondent
Woman trying to release shoulder tension
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Many people with shoulder, neck, or back tension complain of “knots” in their muscles. But can muscles actually get knotted? Can massage therapy help in “unknotting” them?

When you put excess strain on your muscles and tendons, they can tear apart on a microscopic level. Research suggests about half of all athletic injuries involve overuse of certain musculoskeletal systems. When muscles and tendons are overused, they can become fragile. If your job requires repetitive tasks like typing on a computer or using construction equipment, take extra care with your muscle and tendon health.

Whether you strain yourself at work or play, a healing massage can encourage your body to regain healthy flexibility that can help avoid further injury.

Why Do I Get Knots in My Muscles?

Muscles can stick together and create knots because of inactivity, dehydration, and injury. If you regularly ask your body to endure these conditions, your muscles and tendons can become chronically inflexible. If your body can’t move easily, your posture will likely suffer, putting increased stress on your musculoskeletal system.

Once you start down this track, you’ll have to work hard to reverse bad posture and inflexibility. Scheduling regular massage therapy appointments can help you regain full range of motion, functionality, and stamina.

Your muscle fibers adhere to each other because the fascial (soft tissue) layers that surround and weave between them stick together. As your massage therapist rubs the muscles and soft tissues under your skin, this friction causes your fascial layers to let go of each other. Without this inflexibility, your muscles and tendons can regain their normal and healthy functionality.

How Can I Avoid Getting Muscle Knots?

  • Drink Plenty of Water – Try to avoid drinking sugary, caffeinated, and alcoholic drinks in excess. Switching to water instead can ensure your body is getting the hydration it needs.
  • Exercise Frequently – Work movement into your daily routine and your favorite activities. Play sports, hit the gym, walk around your neighborhood, take bicycle excursions, or climb the stairwells at your workplace.
  • Eat Healthy Food – Limit your intake of processed and fast food and instead consume healthier options. Give your cells and tissues the basic ingredients and components they need to maintain healthy function, heal damage, and grow stronger.
  • Switch It Up – When working on your computer and phone, be sure to switch postures and move around often. In the gym, give your body a wide variety of exercises. Avoid overuse injuries by working out a different muscle group each day. This variety gives your body ample time to heal and grow.
  • Reduce Stress and Anxiety – Regular massage therapy sessions can be a great way to manage mental and emotional health.
  • Revitalize Your Body with Healthy Sleep – Resting well every night allows your body to heal itself from everyday wear and tear. Many people get frequent massage therapy treatments to relieve insomnia symptoms and enjoy more energy during their waking hours.

How Can I Treat My Muscle Knots?

When you feel knots and cramps in your muscles, be sure to take a break from any activities that strain the affected areas. Move your body to loosen up in any way you can without experiencing additional pain. Stretch out the affected area, under the guidance of a certified bodyworker, yoga teacher, or physical therapist. Consult your physician if you feel extreme or chronic pain. If you do overwork your muscles or experience a repetitive strain injury, ask your doctor about including massage therapy in your treatment plan.

Many doctors, trainers, and coaches recommend massage therapy to their patients and clients because this treatment has few side effects or interactions with pharmaceuticals. Of course, it is best to consult a physician before getting massage therapy, especially if you have deep-vein thrombosis (blood clots). Physicians may recommend that people with certain cancers and skin conditions postpone massage therapy until these conditions improve; however, in many cases, massage treatments can provide pain relief and healing for some cancers and other conditions.

People with all kinds of health conditions, even chronic illnesses, might seek massage therapy to deal with muscle knots. Schedule frequent massage therapy sessions to facilitate soft-tissue healing from many types of injuries. Massage therapy helps millions of people treat pain, strain, and soft-tissue injuries, among other conditions.

References:

  1. Crane, J. D., Ogborn, D. I., Cupido, C., Melov, S., Hubbard, A., Jacqueline M., . . . Tarnopolsky, M. (2012). Massage therapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage. Science Translational Medicine, 4(119), 119. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3002882
  2. Muscular dystrophy. (2014, November 27). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/muscular-dystrophy/basics/definition/con-20021240
  3. Nakama, L. H., King, K. B., Abrahamsson, S., Rempel, D. M. (2007). Effect of repetition rate on the formation of microtears in tendon in an in vivo cyclical loading model. Journal of Orthopaedic Research, 25(9): 1176-1184. doi:10.1002/jor.20408
  4. Reimholz, C. (2014, May 1). What is a ‘muscle knot’ and how to treat it. Athletico Physical Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.athletico.com/2014/05/01/what-is-a-muscle-knot/
  5. Warpenburg, M. J. (2014). Deep friction massage in treatment of radiation-induced fibrosis: Rehabilitative care for breast cancer survivors. Integrative Medicine (Encinitas), 13(5): 32-36. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684108

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