The Basics on Muscle Knots
Muscle knots are very common and they can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. A muscle knot can make itself known by causing a sharp pain and tightness in a muscle that could even make it hard to use the muscle or move the affected area, such as a shoulder or leg. The pain is usually limited to a concentrated area that might even be felt with the fingertips as a round or swollen, but hard, lump deep under the skin. In many instances, though, the knot may not feel as much like a lump, but more like a hardened section of muscle. If you suffer from muscle knots on a fairly regular basis then you’re probably starting to wonder what, exactly, a muscle knot is, why your body is having this reaction and if there’s anything that you can do to speed along the recovery process.
What is a Muscle Knot?
Although the word knot implies that the muscle has become tangled up, the reality is that the fibers of muscle tissue are not jumbled together but are actually constricted and will remain that way until the muscle allows itself to relax or is coerced to do so. Of course, our muscles are all about contracting and relaxing to create movement, but when a limited area of muscle remains severely contracted for a long period of time, it triggers pain receptors and results in the discomfort and soreness that we associate with muscle knots.
What Causes a Muscle to Become Knotted?
There are a number of factors that can contribute to the formation of muscle knots, and not all of them are super-scientific in nature. A lot of time a muscle knot will develop as the result of overuse, misuse, or damage to the affected muscle. This injury, in the form of tiny tears within the fibers of the muscle, cause the nearby tissues to swell up and become very tender, sensitive, and might even make it difficult to use the muscle for a few days.
Think back to the activities in which you participated around the time that you began to suffer from muscle knots. Had you played an active sport such as football, soccer, tennis, or swimming? Sports like these require a lot of muscle action all over the body, and in the heat of the game many of us can be guilty of twisting the wrong way, overextending an arm or leg, or simply demanding our muscles to perform in ways that they weren’t really designed to. If you’re a weightlifter, then this could definitely be the cause behind your knot-riddled muscles, especially if there is any chance that you’re taking on too much weight, using improper form, or not allowing yourself enough rest between workouts.
Muscle knots can also be caused by muscle “abuse.” Not to say that you are particularly hard on your muscles, but there are things that we can do throughout the day that cause undue strain on the muscles by making them work harder. Such actions include sitting in an unsupportive chair, such as a stool, hunching over, wearing shoes that lack sufficient arch support, sleeping on a bad mattress, or failing to take adequate breaks throughout the day to give the body a break from other positions like standing or sitting. People who have desk jobs or work with computers are very likely to develop knots in their muscles because of the unnatural way that the body is positioned for several hours at a time; the neck being tilted downwards to look at the monitor and the shoulders failing to line up due to the use of a mouse and keyboard.
An accidental injury, such as a car crash, a fall, or bumping into something sturdy can also cause enough injury to the muscle that a knot develops. Stress is also another very common contributor to muscle knots.
How to Treat the Muscle
Treating muscle knots isn’t as straightforward as most of us would hope. One of the best ways to coax a knot out of a muscle is to gently massage the area. This encourages the muscle fibers relax and can cut down on the inflammation that causes tightness, swelling, and discomfort. Muscle rubs like Icy-Hot can also be beneficial and can be used to lubricate the skin throughout the massage. As an alternative, you can use everyday olive oil or vegetable oil with a few drops of lavender essential oil. Warm the oil to a comfortable temperature and use it to gently massage the affected areas. Lavender is great for soothing tense muscles and has been proved to have a soothing effect on emotional stress, as well.
The other best option for treating knotted muscles is to simply rest them. The use of the muscle and or the limb, if it applies, should be restricted until the muscle has completely healed. If the knot fails to go away or if the pain seems to get worse then it is possible that the muscle has sustained significant damage and should be treated as a moderate muscle strain.