Why Do You Get Muscle Knots? (and what you can do about it)

Have you ever gotten a massage, expecting it to feel great and relaxing, but it turns out to be painful?

Or, have you ever gone for some physical therapy and discovered places that hurt when pressed on that you had no idea were there?

Or, have you experimented with a foam roller, and found places in your body that hurt that you would rather not know about?

All of these unexpected painful places are the result of trigger points that have formed in your muscles. Otherwise known as muscle knots, they can be pretty annoying at times. But often we are functioning pretty well anyway. Its only when they start to get in our way that we really take notice. For instance, when you have a chronically sore neck, a shoulder that doesn’t move as well as it used to, or muscle spasms in your back. And, believe it or not, even things like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, or a torn ligament can be the result of unresolved trigger points.

To be clear, trigger points are places in your muscle and/or fascia that are tight because they have become extra sensitive. It means that, for some reason, that part of the muscle is contracting too much. So, when you go to move that muscle, the trigger point is going to fire up too much and too often. You may not be aware that this is happening because the rest of the muscle is still moving pretty well. Except that it isn’t, not really.

When you have a trigger point, the muscle that has it does not work as well. It’s dysfunctional. When a muscle is tight, even if its just part of a muscle, it causes what is called reciprocal inhibition. Now, hang in there with me for a bit while I explain this. When a muscle contracts, it causes the opposing muscle to relax, or be inhibited, so that the contracting muscle can move better. If there is a part of your muscle that is always contracted, the opposing muscle area will be inhibited. That is how things get dysfunctional.

That’s not good, you might be saying. But, what am I supposed to do about it?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. You may have noticed that people who are serious about doing sports or working out tend to use the foam roller to get the knots out. That’s because they are concerned about keeping their muscles functioning well, and can feel the difference. More on this would be a topic for another blog, but for now, you could learn some basic ways to use a roller to help mitigate the trigger points.
  2. Another good idea is to get regular massages. When the trigger points become compressed (it hurts, unfortunately), it temporarily restricts the flow of blood and other fluids to that area. When released, the rush of fluid back into the area can help it to reset and relax. There are other things going on with massage and compression as well, all of which can be helpful. You can sometimes help relieve your trigger points by doing this yourself. So, if you can’t afford regular massages, using a roller and the “do it yourself” method can often be useful.
  3. Aside from a direct attack on these nasty knots, you can also pay attention to your posture and alignment. For example, keeping your head in a forward position a lot gives you pain in the back of your neck! Let’s face it…it is difficult to maintain good posture and alignment all the time. But, if you keep mindful of it, make it a habit to check and reset, the good habits can build up and lead to better positioning.
  4. In addition to that, IF you are a person who works out, make sure to work your muscles in a balanced way. Front and back, side to side, up and down. We tend to work the muscles in the front half of our bodies more often. It’s just easier, they are the muscles that we can see, and they tend to be stronger because we use them more often. Working the back muscles, the back part of our shoulders, the glutes (butt), hamstrings and calves, can really help us maintain good posture and alignment (as in #3). Muscle balance keeps dysfunction and compensations to a minimum, and keeps you and your muscles happy. SIDEBAR: If you are NOT a person who works out, of course I would like you to consider starting! Even so, try to keep any activities you do balanced for your muscles.
  5. Stretch. Stretching helps to keep your muscles lengthened, and can counteract some chronic tightness that comes from daily living, activity, or sports. If you are using a foam roller, do that first, and then stretch.

These suggestions are here to give you awareness of actions that you can take to keep yourself in good shape! You may be thinking that all of this takes too much time. But notice that some things can be slipped into your day, just by being more mindful of them (watching your posture, doing a few stretches, even doing a little foam rolling). Anything you can do to treat your body well is going to help you move better, feel better, and reduce pain and dysfunction for the long haul.

Cheers for now,

© 2017-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

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