We’ve all said it – ‘my shoulders are knotted’, ‘I’m all knotted up’ – but what actually *is* a muscle knot? How do we get them and how can we help them?
Muscle tissue is made up of long fibres that contract and release, and through their connection (via tendons) to bones allow us to move around. Muscle tissue appears in layers and runs in different directions to allow our full range of motion. A ‘knot’ is a simply point within a muscle where some muscle fibres have contracted but are not able to ‘release’ – like a miniature and highly localised cramp.
Muscle knots can normally be felt through your fingertips by pressing on different muscles – and can feel a different sizes ranging from small pearl-sized knots to a finger-sized knot in large muscles. Most knots are what we call ‘latent’ meaning they only hurt when you (or your massage therapist) puts pressure on them. The rest are so-called ‘active’ meaning they are painful all the time.
The most common cause of muscle knots is poor posture – sitting with no back support, or hunched over a desk. Our muscles are meant to be ‘worked’ and long periods spent in the same position means some are unworked and others are constantly contracted. Much like an engine seizing up, fibres in those muscles cease to contract and release freely and can bunch up into knots. Other common causes are strenuous exercise, especially weightlifting, and falls/injuries. We quite often see clients who have a poor posture at a largely sedentary London office (with rounded shoulders indicating that back muscles are over-stretched), who then do a strenuous workout contracting those same muscles, and knots are the consequence.
You can treat muscle knots yourself by gently massaging the point (some people recommend rolling tennis balls, or foam rollers). It’s easy to miss the knot – sometimes the exact point where you think the pain is originating, is not the location of the muscle knot. You are far better off (we would say this wouldn’t we!) having a thorough massage, or better still a course of several massages. With layered muscle tissue sometimes the knot is not in the layer closest to the surface. A Deep Tissue massage is an ideal way to try and root out these deeper knots.