Do you get tight muscles in your back and shoulders? Maybe your muscle at the bottom of your neck and bottom of shoulder blade crutches, or your rotator cuff muscles feel heavy and have painful pressure points? If yes, then this article is a must-read.
If you suffer from muscle knots, you’re not alone. It’s a problem shared by many of us, but you may be surprised to learn that exercise actually helps to decrease the likelihood and severity of muscle knots. So if you don’t already, introduce some daily exercise activities into your life and see how much that can help.
Although nearly everyone knows what a muscle knot feels like, muscle knots are poorly understood. A common misconception is that they are made up of muscle fibres that have twisted together and created a knot. This belief leads people to assume that getting a massage helps to smooth the muscle fibres out and get rid of the knot. This is not the case.
We’re not 100% sure what the causes of trigger points (aka knots) are, but the prevailing theory is that they are the result of overworking, or dysfunctional muscles, where the message to contract fails to stop sending and results in chronically contracted muscle fibres and ultimately, a small thickened area of muscle tissue. This chronic contraction then causes problems when the muscle needs to be recruited, as muscles can’t contract when already in a contracted state.
Another common theory (potentially both theories could be correct in different instances), is that an overworking, tired or dysfunctional muscle causes chemicals to be released that restrict blood flow and ultimately reduce the body's ability to clean up waste products from the area.
How does massage help?
If massage doesn’t 'untangle' the muscle fibres, how does it actually help? Based on the above theories, we believe that massage works due to the signals it sends to the body to repair the area. By creating a sensation at the muscle knot, nociception signals (our bodies stimuli detection system) are sent to the brain, the signal is interpreted and the body increases blood flow and sends it’s army of cells to the area to help break down waste products and correct the over contraction.
You can self-massage to get the signals flowing using a spikey (trigger point) ball or a foam roller. Alternatively, you can book in for a treatment and your massage therapist will find the knots you didn't even know you had!
Can you avoid knots?
To stop muscle knots occurring we need to address why they start in the first place, and this can be put down to lack of activity, or too much repetitive activity where we overload one set of muscles and under use another - causing a lack of activity in one of the muscles in the group.
Understanding this helps us work out, on an individual level what we can do to help ourselves get out of pain. As discussed at the beginning of the article, if you don’t exercise at all you are likely to have some tight areas, so getting out and moving is always a great place to start.
Personally, I love yoga to specifically address knots on the back, neck and shoulders. As we recruit a range of muscles in the yoga sequences, putting our arms up and out in different positions, bending and twisting like you wouldn’t normally through a typical day. Pilates is also good for this and provides a good varied strength class or classic aerobics.
So what do you need to remember?
There are a few key take-homes I want to leave you with;
* if you suffer from muscle knots, stimulate them
* help the brain realise that the knots are there
* make sure you move more and in lots of different ways and directions
You can alert the body to these knots with self-massage or by coming in and seeing one of the therapists at Muscle Medicine (we have an uncanny knack of finding them).
This is one of the reasons we recommend maintenance massages. Having a treatment every 6 - 8 weeks will keep sending these messages to your brain to help with releasing any knots that are developing. Your therapist can also assess and advise if you have any muscles which may be prone to underuse as the counter muscles compensate. We won't' do all the work - you'll need to get moving and follow the exercises prescribed, but it will do wonders for preventing injury and muscle pain.