How to Get Rid of Muscle Knots Efficiently?

How to Get Rid of Muscle Knots Efficiently?

In this comprehensive guide on “How to Get Rid of Muscle Knots Efficiently,” readers will gain insights into the nature of muscle knots or myofascial trigger points. The article delves into the formation, characteristics, and complexities of these knots and provides a robust understanding of their origins, distinguishing them from mere tender points.

The reader will also discover various theories explaining the cause of these knots and draw from Dr. Adamson’s personal experience treating muscle knots. Highlighting the body’s natural healing mechanisms.

This article concludes with a collection of self-care methods and professional therapies designed to alleviate discomfort and restore muscle health, empowering individuals to tackle muscle tension effectively.

​​​​What are Muscle Knots?

Muscle knots, also referred to as myofascial trigger points (MTrPs), are specific, sensitive regions within our muscle fibers that manifest as tiny lumps or nodules. These tender, localized patches arise due to muscle fibers or the surrounding fascia (the protective sheath around muscles) becoming tense, tightening, or failing to fully relax. The consequence of these tightened regions is discomfort, pain, and in some cases, restricted movement.

What are Muscle Knots

MTrPs can be categorized into two main types: active and latent. Active MTrPs not only cause pain at their specific location but can also induce pain in distant areas of the body, a phenomenon known as referred pain. On the other hand, latent MTrPs produce localized discomfort without causing this referred pain.

Additionally, there’s a distinction to be made with tender points. Unlike MTrPs, tender points are simply areas within the muscle that are painful upon pressure without the characteristic nodules associated with trigger points. They don’t produce the referred pain commonly seen with active MTrPs.

Tender Points: Painful areas lacking the nodule-like structure, without causing referred pain.

Latent MTrPs: Nodule-like formations causing localized pain upon pressure.

Active MTrPs: Similar to latent ones but with the added complication of causing pain in other areas of the body.

The complexity of muscle knots and their potential impact on our well-being makes understanding them essential, especially for those seeking relief from muscle-related discomfort.

Are Muscle Knots Real?

Yes, the reality of MTrPs has long been a topic of debate among medical professionals. Some argue that inconsistencies in pinpointing MTrPs by different experts mean these knots might not exist. Early research struggled to consistently identify these trigger points. Yet, those studies often overlooked the core characteristics of MTrPs.

A contrasting study by Gerwin and colleagues dug deeper. They looked at key features of an MTrP: a sensitive spot in a tight muscle strand, a muscle twitch when stimulated, a distinct pattern of referred pain for each muscle, and pain that mirrors the patient’s usual complaints. They found that when doctors looked for these signs, they mostly agreed on the presence of MTrPs.

Another groundbreaking study about muscle pain in 2005 by Shah and team used special needles to examine what these supposed MTrPs were made of. They discovered heightened levels of certain pain-related chemicals near these points, more so than in other muscle areas. This suggested that these areas were, indeed, special pain points or knots.

Today’s imaging tech, like sonoelastography (a kind of ultrasound), reveals these MTrPs as unique, elliptical dark areas, matching what experts feel during a physical exam. Another method, Magnetic Resonance Elastography (MRE), identifies these knots by checking muscle stiffness.

Despite the doubts of some experts, the bulk of the evidence tilts in favor of MTrPs being real. Even if we can now see them using imaging tech, it’s not always practical. So, for treatments like dry needling (DN), physical therapists still need to pinpoint these knots by feel.

Recent studies hint that experts can do this fairly consistently, especially if they’ve trained together and have a lot of experience with muscle pain issues. At Drive PT, our therapists are trained to assess for muscle knots, and to apply treatments including dry needling and soft-tissue mobilization that will release muscle knots and return the tissue back to normal.

What Causes Muscle Knots?

1. Motor End Plate Theory: This theory suggests that muscle knots, or MTrPs, can be caused by a glitch in the connection between nerves and muscles, called the motor end plate. This glitch makes the body release more acetylcholine (ACh), a chemical involved in muscle activation.

Researchers believe that this leads to unusual muscle activity. Studies using needle EMG (a way to measure muscle electrical activity) found that areas with active MTrPs had this unusual activity. Meanwhile, areas without MTrPs were quiet. Simons theorized that this could lead to what’s called the Energy Crisis Theory.

2. Energy Crisis Theory: Dr. Simons suggested that if muscle fibers stay contracted for too long, they can’t get enough blood flow. This means they can’t get enough oxygen to produce ATP, the energy molecule needed for muscles to contract and relax. Possible reasons for this theory include acute injuries, repeated minor injuries, prolonged or repetitive activity, and the Cinderella Hypothesis.

3. Cinderella Hypothesis: This theory is about how muscles behave during light but steady work. It builds on Henneman’s “size principle”, which says our smaller, slower muscle fibers (Type 1) are the first to get involved in work and the last to stop. It’s like the story of Cinderella, where Cinderella does all the work while her stepsisters relax.

Our smaller, slower muscles (Type 1) are the ‘Cinderellas’ because they work first and rest last. But during light, steady tasks, our bigger, faster muscles (Type 2) take a break. This makes the smaller fibers work too hard, causing damage and a mix-up in calcium balance.

Think of sitting at a desk and typing for hours. Here, the small fibers in our postural muscles work to keep us upright, while the bigger fibers take a back seat. As the postural muscles begin to fatigue, larger muscles contract to assist them. Since these muscles are under light, but constant contraction, they are more prone to muscle knots.

A common example occurs when sitting for too long, your erector spinae muscles (see below) fatigue, and you upper trapezius activates to compensate for the fatigue. Finding muscle knots in either of these muscles would back up the Cinderella theory.

4. The Radicular Model: Often called the “Gunn” model after its proponent, Canadian doctor Chan Gunn, suggests that the root cause of myofascial pain stems from issues related to nerve damage, specifically peripheral neuropathy or radiculopathy. Think of it like a muscle that’s weak or wasting away (atrophic) because of nerve signal interruptions. This weakened muscle can press against local pain receptors.

As nerve signals get disrupted, chemicals build up, making the area highly sensitive. This process can further amplify pain signals to the brain, a phenomenon known as central sensitization. In this perspective, muscle knots or MTrP’s aren’t the main culprits. Instead, addressing and treating the muscles near the spine that connect to the affected peripheral muscles can help restore normal nerve signals.

Stress, especially emotional stress, can exacerbate muscle tension and lead to muscle knots. For example, when someone is anxious or stressed, they might unconsciously tense their shoulders or neck. Over time, this constant tension can form muscle knots in these areas.

how to get rid of muscle knots

Which Body Parts or Muscles Are Prone To Muscle Knots?

Muscle knots, or myofascial trigger points, can form in almost any muscle of the body. However, certain muscles are more prone to developing knots due to factors such as overuse, prolonged static postures, or strain. Some muscles commonly affected by muscle knots include:

Trapezius: Located in the upper back and neck, this muscle often develops knots due to poor posture, especially from hunching over a computer or phone.

Rhomboids: These muscles, found between the shoulder blades, can develop knots due to poor posture and overuse.

Erector Spinae: The muscles running alongside the spine are commonly affected, especially in individuals who sit for extended periods.

Piriformis: Located deep in the buttocks, this muscle can become knotted and may even compress the sciatic nerve, leading to a condition known as “piriformis syndrome.”

Levator Scapulae: This muscle, which runs from the upper neck to the shoulder, can develop knots, especially in people who carry heavy bags or backpacks.

Gastrocnemius and Soleus: These calf muscles can develop knots from activities such as running or from wearing high-heeled shoes.

Quadratus Lumborum: This muscle in the lower back can become knotted due to lifting heavy objects improperly or from prolonged sitting.

Supraspinatus: Part of the rotator cuff group in the shoulder, this muscle can develop knots, especially in those who perform overhead activities.

Gluteus Medius and Minimus: Found in the buttocks, these muscles are often knotted in runners and those with hip imbalances.

Hamstrings and Quadriceps: These thigh muscles can develop knots due to muscle imbalances, strains, or overuse in activities like running or cycling.

It’s worth noting that while these muscles are prone to knots, any muscle in the body can develop a knot, especially if subjected to strain, overuse, or trauma. Regular self-care, like stretching and proper ergonomics, can help reduce the risk of muscle knots.

Symptoms Indicating the Presence of Muscle Knots

Here are three primary symptoms that suggest the presence of these knots:

Localized Pain and Sensitivity: One of the most telling signs of a muscle knot is localized pain or tenderness in a specific spot. This pain can be constant or may intensify when you press or massage the affected area. The sensitivity is due to the tightened muscle fibers, which can compress nerves and reduce blood flow, leading to discomfort. For instance, a knot in the trapezius muscle, located in the upper back, can lead to pain not only in its immediate location but also around the neck and head, potentially causing tension headaches.

Reduced Range of Motion: Muscle knots can impede your ability to move freely. You might notice stiffness or tightness in a particular muscle group, making certain motions or stretches feel challenging or even impossible. For example, if there’s a knot in the hamstring, you might find it difficult to fully extend or stretch the leg without experiencing pain or tightness.

Muscle Spasms and Twitching: Another symptom indicative of muscle knots is the involuntary contraction or twitching of muscle fibers. This sporadic movement or sensation is due to the muscle’s inability to fully relax, which may be caused by the compressed nerves within or near the knot. If you have a knot in your calf muscle, for instance, you might notice sporadic twitching, especially at night or after physical activity.

The Body’s Natural Healing and Repair Mechanisms:

Can Muscle Knots Be Permanent?

No, because our bodies possess a remarkable ability to heal and repair. When faced with injuries or minor strains, the immune system kicks into gear, sending specialized cells to repair damaged tissues. In the context of muscle knots, the body can sometimes release the tension and break down the tight muscle fibers, especially if the cause of the knot was a temporary strain or stress that has since been alleviated.

Situations Where Knots May Diminish Without Intervention:

Will Muscle Knots Go Away On Their Own?

Some muscle knots develop due to transient factors such as poor posture during a unique activity, a temporary increase in stress, or short-lived muscle fatigue. Once the activity is ceased, the stressor removed, or the muscle recovers, these knots can diminish. For instance, a muscle knot that forms after a single, strenuous workout might dissipate after a day or two of rest. Similarly, knots that arise from a brief period of emotional stress may reduce as one’s mental well-being improves.

The Potential for Knots to Remain or Become Chronic:

Can Muscle Knots Last For Years?

Yes, it’s essential to note that not all muscle knots will vanish on their own. Knots resulting from chronic postural issues, repeated physical strain, or longstanding stressors can become deeply ingrained and require intervention. If the underlying cause of the knot isn’t addressed, it can persist or even worsen over time. Chronic muscle knots can lead to further complications, like reduced range of motion, constant pain, or development of additional knots in nearby muscles due to compensatory movements.

Prevention of Muscle Knots Using Home Remedies Like Exercises:

Good Ways to Get Rid of Muscle Knots

Muscle tension can affect anyone, especially following extended periods of stress or strenuous activity. Fortunately, there’s a range of both self-care and professional therapy options to help manage and alleviate this discomfort. Let’s dive into these techniques to discover what might work best for you:

Effective Methods to Treat and Alleviate Muscle Knots

1. Self-massage Techniques: Empowering Your Hands

a. Foam Rolling:

Rolling can assist in releasing muscle knots and amplifying circulation.

  • Start with a medium-firm foam roller.
  • Gently roll over tense areas for 1-2 minutes.

b. Massage Balls:

Particularly handy for targeting specific knots, especially in those tricky, hard-to-reach spots.

  • For the back, position the ball between you and a wall, moving in small circles.
  • Underfoot, roll the ball while applying a gentle pressure.

c. Self-Mobilization (Soft-Tissue Mobilization):

Through hands or tools, maneuver the skin and muscle to promote circulation and dissipate scar tissue.

  • Use sweeping or circular motions on tight areas.
  • Tools such as silicone cups or gua sha can enhance this method.

2. Active Release Technique (ART):

A combination of pressure and stretching, ART offers a unique approach to relieving tension.

  • Pinpoint a tight spot.
  • Using one hand, apply pressure and with the other, stretch the muscle.
  • Maintain pressure while moving through the full stretch.

3. Stretching: Easing the Strain

Regular stretching assists in muscle elongation and tension reduction.

  • For the neck: Tilt your head toward one shoulder and hold.
  • For legs: Extend one leg and gently pull your toes towards you.

4. Heat and Cold Therapy: The Temperature Tango

a. Heat Therapy:

Optimal for lingering muscle discomfort, heat soothes muscles and amplifies blood flow.

  • Use a warm towel or heating pad for 15-20 minutes.

b. Cold Therapy:

For fresh muscle injuries, cold can numb and decrease inflammation.

  • Employ ice packs wrapped in cloth for 10-15 minutes.

5. Physical Therapy: A Professional Touch

a. Exercising:

Under the guidance of a physical therapist, targeted exercises can work wonders. Exercising actively stretches and contracts muscles, which not only aids flexibility but also boosts blood flow. This rush of blood brings along fresh oxygen and vital nutrients to the muscle tissues, acting as a natural remedy to muscle knots and tension.

b. Dry Needling:

By inserting fine needles into muscle knots, this technique assists muscles in relaxation.

c. Soft-Tissue Mobilization:

Using this method, physical therapists address muscle tightness and knots, aiming for relief.