Muscle knots are painful and annoying. They pop up in our muscles without warning and cause us to feel sore and stiff.
There are many causes of muscle knots, including poor posture, repetitive motion, and stress.
If you suffer from muscle knots, then you've probably tried everything under the sun to get rid of them. But nothing works. In fact, most treatments only make the problem worse.
They happen when muscles get stuck together due to overuse, injury, or poor form.
In this article I'll go over the most common causes of muscle knots, how to treat them, and the best ways to prevent muscle knots from happening.
What Are Muscle Knots?
A muscle knot is a tight and hard area of muscle that forms in your muscles. The muscle tightness is usually caused by a type of spasm, leading to knots.
It can be very painful and uncomfortable, affecting your daily activities. These tense muscle fibers, also known as myofascial trigger points, are painful when touched and even when not touched.
The cause of the pain is not clear because muscle knots do not show up on any scans for researchers and doctors. There are a couple of hypotheses for why there is pain:
- The pain is due to restricted blood flow from the muscle spasms.
- Spasms are triggering nerves.
No matter the cause of the pain, it's important to know how to treat them.
How to Get Rid of Muscle Knots
There are a variety of options available to help you get rid of these pesky muscle knots. You may want to try one or more of these methods to see what works best for you.
1. Applying Cold and Heat
Applying cold and heat can reduce the inflammation and stiffness associated with muscle knots.
Cold packs work well for reducing swelling and inflammation by slowing down the blood flow. Heat pads can help relax the muscles and reduce tension by encouraging blood flow.
Cold is usually used first to minimize swelling if the muscle knots are acute and new. Heat is usually used later to promote healing through increased blood flow.
Self massage is a popular and easy way to relieve muscle knots. It helps loosen tight muscles and increase circulation.
To self-massage, you should rub the sore spot in a circular motion using moderate pressure. Start at the top of the muscle knot and slowly move toward the bottom. Start with gentle pressure as they could be a tender spot.
For easily-accessible areas on your body, you can use your fingers or knuckles to massage the knots.
For harder-to-reach knots, such as on your back, you can use a foam roller or tennis ball to apply pressure to the affected areas. You can place them on the floor and roll on them.
3. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is an effective way to loosen up tight muscle knots and ease discomfort. A massage will increase blood circulation and flow, helping the muscles loosen up.
A professional massage therapist will work the knot and surrounding area using slow strokes and deep pressure to release the tension and allow the muscle to heal. One session will usually not be enough to completely eliminate the pain. Several sessions may be needed to be pain free.
Stretching helps to lengthen the muscle tissue and release the tension from the muscle knot. This will help improve flexibility and allow your muscles to move more freely without being held in place.
Stretching should be done slowly and gently, without causing pain. Don't force stretching your muscles too far. Instead, focus on relaxing the tight muscles, instead of forcing them to stretch further than usual.
Gaining flexibility will take time, so don't expect immediate results. It takes at least three weeks before you'll notice a difference in your flexibility.
5. Trigger Point Release
Trigger point release uses firm pressure applied directly to the muscle knots, aka the trigger points, to relieve the pain. The goal is to decrease the sensitivity of the trigger point which decreases the pain.
Once you locate the knot, press down on it firmly and release. Putting direct pressure on the knot will help to soften the muscle.
6. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy involves strengthening muscles, increasing muscle flexibility, and endurance. These techniques can be helpful when treating muscle knots.
A physical therapist will work on finding the underlying causes of the problem and treating them, rather than just focusing on the knots themselves. They use exercises and stretches to strengthen the tight, weak, or injured muscles.
7. Graston Technique
Graston technique is used to treat soft tissue injuries such as muscle knots. It's a manual therapy that works by using stainless-steel tools to apply small amounts of friction over the affected area. It's a specialized form of scraping that should only be performed by trained professionals.
8. Acupressure and Acupuncture
Acupressure and acupuncture are great options to improve circulation and relax muscles for treating muscle knots. Both are very similar in that they are Traditional Chinese Medicine that uses the concept of meridian lines to stimulate certain points along the body to increase and improve energy flow.
Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific pressure points that correspond with different parts of the body. Acupressure is similar but uses hand pressure instead of needles. Both methods stimulate muscles and nerves to promote healing.
Acupuncture is best when done by an experienced acupuncturist. Acupressure can be self-applied with your fingers, knuckles, elbows, or with the help of someone else.
Depending on where your muscle knot and pain are, the pressure points will vary. Below is a list of the main pressure points to apply pressure to and self-massage, along with more in-depth, how to guides.
- Muscle Knots in Back - Bladder 23, Bladder 47, and Bladder 60. Learn more in the Pressure Points for the Back guide.
- Trapezius Muscle Knots - Gallbladder 21, Triple Energizer 3, and Urinary Bladder 10. Read more about Relieving Pain in the Shoulder Blade.
- Muscle Knots in Neck - Bladder 60, Gallbladder 20 and 21, and Large Intestine 4. Check out the How to Relieve Neck Pain guide.
- Muscle Knots in Legs - Stomach 35 and 36, and Bladder 54. See this guide to Relieving Knee and Leg Pain.
- Muscle Knots under Rib Cage - Gallbladder 34 and Liver 14.
- Muscle Knots in Lower Back - Bladder 23 and Bladder 47. Read more in this guide to Relieving Lower Back Pain.
- Muscle Knots in Arm - Triple Warmer 5 and Pericardium 6.
- Muscle Knots in Shoulder - Triple Energizer 3, and Gallbladder 20 and 21. Learn more in this guide to Shoulder Pain Causes and Treatments.
- Knots in Calf Muscle - Bladder 36, 37, 40, 57, 58, and 60.
- Muscle Knots under Shoulder Blade - Gallbladder 20 and 21, and Large Intestine 10.
- Muscle Knots in Forearm - Triple Warmer 5, Liver 4, and Pericardium 6.
- Muscle Knots in Chest - Heart 7 and Conception Vessel 17.
9. Use a Muscle Rub
Using a muscle rub is a simple but effective way to relax sore muscle knots. Massaging the area with a muscle rub twice a day for 10-15 minutes each time will help reduce stiffness and soreness.
Find a muscle rub that contains menthol, camphor, or capsaicin for a cooling effect.
Try Kanjo's Natural Pain Relief Gel that pairs cooling menthol with arnica for muscle pain.
If you have a knotted muscle, you might want to do some light exercise to loosen up the muscle soreness. Exercising the muscles around the knot will help increase blood flow and oxygenation, while stretching the muscles.
The increased blood circulation will help with repairing damaged tissue. You could try yoga, swimming, walking, running, or any other type of aerobic activity to get your blood flowing.
Resting the body after an injury helps the body heal itself. Avoid activities that would use the same muscles where the knots are as that can lead to increased pain and further injury. Rest and relax as much as possible.
A cause of muscle knots is sleeping in an uncomfortable position without the proper support. Sleeping on a pillow that supports the neck and head properly will prevent this from happening.
Kanjo has a couple of pillows that will offer pain relief and give you a better night's sleep. Try the Pain Relief Wedge Pillow and C Pillow to get elevation and ergonomic support while sleeping.
Read our article on How to Use a Wedge Pillow for more in-depth information.
What Causes Muscle Knots?
There are many causes for muscle knots. Some common ones include:
- Poor Posture - Poor posture can contribute to muscle knots because it puts stress on certain areas of the body. If you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, then chances are you're putting yourself at risk for developing muscle knots.
- Injuries - Injury to the muscles can cause them and surrounding muscles to become tight and stiff.
- Stress and Anxiety - Stress and anxiety can make us tense which leads to tension in the muscles and tissues.
Sleep Position - Sleeping in an awkward position can put strain on the back and shoulders causing muscle knots.
- Sedentary Lifestyle - Sitting still for long periods of time can be detrimental to the health of your spine. Sitting too much can lead to back problems, including muscle knots.
- Repetitive Strain Injuries - Repetitive motions such as typing, using a mouse, or playing video games can cause repetitive strain injuries. These injuries often result in muscle knots.
Often, muscle knots can lead to pain and discomfort in the affected area, as well as other areas, including earaches, headaches, and toothaches.
How to Prevent Knots from Forming
Preventing muscle knots is easier than treating them once they form. Here are some things you should keep in mind when trying to avoid forming knots:
- Avoid sleeping in an uncomfortable position. This includes sleeping on your stomach, side, or back.
- Make sure you’re getting enough rest. Sleep deprivation can lead to muscle knots.
- Try to maintain good posture throughout the day. Maintain correct posture by standing up straight with your feet under your hips and keeping your knees slightly bent.
- Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity helps to strengthen and loosen muscles, and also reduces stress levels.
- Avoid sitting down for long periods of time. Get up and take a break every hour to move around and stretch.
- Stretch regularly. Stretching helps improve circulation and reduce stiffness.
- Eat healthy foods. Eating a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains will help ensure you have the nutrients needed to stay healthy.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water each day. Water helps flush toxins out of the system and helps prevent your muscles from tightening up.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience any of the following symptoms, see a doctor immediately:
- Even after some of the natural treatments, you still have chronic pain and/or is worsening over time.
- Pain is severe enough that it interferes with your daily life.
- You notice swelling that won't subside. It could be something else, like a swollen lymph node. That would usually come with other symptoms like a cough, cold, or infection.
Pain that radiates into another part of the body.
If you ever have any questions, you should call your healthcare provider.
Muscle Knots FAQs
Are There Essential Oils for Muscle Knots?
There are essential oils available that claim to help relieve muscle knots. The ones that are used most often are juniper, lavender, marjoram, peppermint, and turmeric essential oils. These oils are commonly used by mixing them with massage oil or diffusing the oil with an aromatherapy diffuser.
Does MRI Show Muscle Knots?
Muscle knots do not show up on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. Knots also don't show up on X-ray or CT scans either. To diagnose a muscle knot, you will need to go to your healthcare provider for a physical examination to feel the muscle tightness and see the patient's reaction.
Can Chiropractors Get Rid of Knots?
Yes, chiropractic adjustments can get rid of muscle knots. Some people prefer this method because it is usually faster and more efficient than massages. A chiropractor may use spinal manipulation, traction, or exercise therapy to treat muscle knots.
Can Muscle Relaxers Help Muscle Knots?
Muscle relaxers can help relax muscle knots short-term and reduce the pain, but it's not a long-term solution. You shouldn't rely on these medications as a way to manage chronic muscle knots.
How Often Should I Get a Massage for Knots?
If you are self-massaging, you can do 5-minute sessions on a muscle knot up to 5 or 6 times a day. If you are getting a professional massage, 1 to 2 massages per week are recommended for muscle knots.
- Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/muscle-knots
- Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321224
- WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/what-to-know-muscle-knots
- MedicineNet: https://www.medicinenet.com/how_do_you_get_rid_of_muscle_knots/article.htm