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An Ultimate Guide To Clear Your Muscle Knots

You might have gone a bit too far with the shoulder presses too much and now you feel it too. Maybe, before your race, you chose to miss your warm-up

An Ultimate Guide To Clear Your Muscle Knots

You might have gone a bit too far with the shoulder presses too much and now you feel it too. Maybe, before your race, you chose to miss your warm-up (bad idea), and you feel some tightness in your calves. It's not unusual to wake up every now and then with any muscle tightness, or knots.

On the other hand, you can also get knots all day from sitting at a desk which can cause tension in your neck and shoulders as well as tightness in the hips. According to the International Sports Science Association, over time, this rigid, fixed position can make your core, back and butt muscles weak. According to Piedmont Healthcare, not to mention, it can make knots worse, and hinder blood circulation, particularly if you sit with your legs crossed.

The good news is that there are many budget-friendly, easy ways to relieve knots, using equipment that you may already have at home. Here's what you need to know about handling knots and avoiding them.

What Is a Muscle Knot Exactly?

Typically knots in a certain muscle feel like a tied-up ball of tension. What most of us would call a "muscle knot," according to Cameron Yuen, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City, is actually a myofascial trigger point.

Let's unpack that: Fascia is the connective tissue that overlays the muscle and distinguishes it from other body tissue. A myofascial trigger point is formed when the muscle fascia gets irritated by overuse or poor posture. According to Tri-City Medical Center, this creates an isolated spasm of tightly contracted tissue.

The isolated spasm — not to be confused with a spasm or cramp of the entire body — is a thick and tough knot that prevents blood supply to the body and causes more discomfort.

What Are Causing Muscle Knots?

Knots happen in different people for different reasons, but there are a few common lifestyle factors behind your tight muscles that could be the culprit.

  1. Overused muscle. One common reason you can develop trigger points is the overuse of certain muscles, Yuen says. According to the Mayo Clinic, muscle overuse can occur when you train the same muscle group too frequently, exercise it too hard too soon, or train it in an improper form. These same causes can also contribute to muscle pain and tenderness, also known as muscle soreness at delayed onset (DOMS). Overuse of the muscle will evolve into injury over time if left untreated.
  2. Poor posture. Another common explanation your muscles may grow knots is a less-than-optimal work setup, Yuen says. Many people prefer to sit all day with a bad posture that can strain the hip flexors, cause glute pain, and place stress on the back and shoulders.

Main Tip

"Basically, muscles work better when they can push and contract in different ways, so if you're in the same position all day, you may be able to build some trigger points," Yuen says. "It can happen across the body but in the postural muscles of the feet, calves, back and neck, they appear to occur more frequently."

How To Treat These Muscle Knots?

With all muscle knots, the right treatment would look different, but a self-massage is a cost-effective, secure, and easy place to start. Also known as self-myofascial release (SMR), it can help loosen knots by using a foam roller, tennis ball, or lacrosse ball. This also tends to improve muscle length and motion range while reducing tightness.

There are two separate theories about how foam rolling and other types of SMR work to loosen knots, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Another is that foam rolling makes muscles more flexible as it produces heat, widening blood vessels to increase muscle tissue blood flow, and relieving tightness.

The other is that SMR relieves knots by the autogenic inhibition principle which occurs when a muscle is under stress. There are two main sensory organs in the muscle fascia: the Golgi tendon organ (GTO), and the muscle spindle. Such muscle receptors decide when strain is in the muscle tissue and a change in the length of the muscle.

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), muscle spindles are receptors in muscle fibers that respond to a change in muscle length while the GTO senses when there is tension in the muscle fibers. If the GTO feels stress it is signaling relaxation and lengthening to the muscle spindles.

Foam rolling or using other types of SMR generates muscle fiber tension which stimulates the GTO and muscle spindles.

Quick Tip

According to the ACE, also muscle spindles can promote relief through a type of stretching called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. This stretch helps one muscle group to contract, thereby relaxing and lengthening the opposing muscle group.

Yet Yuen gives some general instructions on how to properly treat knots before you select the right SMR method for your muscles:

  1. Start by running down the length of the muscle knot using your machine. Do not roll too much pressure over the region that causes more pain.
  2. Try holding sustained pressure on the knot with your massage tool once the area has started to relax. The pressure is supposed to be intense but relaxed.
  3. For the muscle and joint to pass through the maximum range of motion. Active lengthening and shortening of muscle to help restore the connection between the nervous system and the muscle.
  4. Link muscle to resistance. Use your hand to gently block your joint from moving while you contract the muscle. Keep on for a count of 10 seconds then release and repeat. Should not push yourself into suffering.

Best for Upper Back, Glutes and Legs: Foam Roller

The foam roller can be used to alleviate total body stress but it works particularly well on the hands, glutes, and back, says Yuen. Foam rolling is a perfect way of hitting bigger close and knotted muscle groups. Therefore, foam rolling will promote blood flow to your muscles and knots, which eventually facilitates recovery.

It's a similar method to rolling the legs and glutes, Yuen explains. Place your quads directly on top of the roller for your legs, and work down the entire muscle length, use your forearms to move your body. Every time you hit a tight knot, pause for a few moments.

You should sit directly on your foam roller and move one leg over the opposite knee to relax your glutes. This position lets you gain deeper inside each glute. Roll side by side, pausing in particularly tender areas, such as the outside of your butt.

Even you can roll your upper back with foam. Horizontally lay the foam roller on the ground so it's parallel to the upper back. Lie on the deck, on top of the foam roller with your shoulder blades. Wrap your arms tightly around your body. From here the muscles between the shoulder blades roll up and down.


According to the NASM, you can never foam rolling your lower back. Doing so will cause you to hyperextend and bring extra strain, which will make your problems worse. On the contrary, try these exercises which relieve pain.

Best for Shoulders, Head, Heart, and Mid-Back: Tennis Ball or Lacrosse Ball

While these tools are somewhat less common than the foam roller, lacrosse and tennis balls are excellent ways to target smaller, more difficult to reach knots. Like a foam roller, you'll want to use the ball to exert gentle pressure as your muscles start releasing tightness.

Although the principle is essentially the same, massaging with a ball is very different from that of a roller. Smaller muscle groups can be tricky, like your traps, but you can use a door frame to help target those knots, says Yuen.

For example, if you're dealing with tight traps, you can place the ball on the edge of a doorframe, directly aligning your muscle on top of the ball. Push the ball to apply pressure, with your head and neck through the doorway.

Or, if you feel any knots in your heart or mid-back, lie directly on the muscles along the sides of your spine on the ground with the ball. Wrap your arms around your body as if you were making a hug to yourself. Then roll up your back length onto your shoulder blades, pausing as necessary.

Place a ball against a wall for massage of your shoulders. Lean toward the ball in the position your pec crosses your shoulder. The more you lean inside the ring, the more pressure you place on the knot. Cross your eyes, roll side by side.

Perfect For Total Body: Manual Massage

A full-body, manual massage can be expensive but it's an excellent knot-reliever. Much like equipment for self-massage, having a manual massage will improve blood flow to tight muscles. You may also ask your massage therapist to pause on the knots to give them some extra focus.

"As long as it isn't too rough, a massage might work wonders," says Yuen. "You'll want to use different methods like a foam roller, like working the length of the muscle and keeping pressure on the trigger point. But, a massage is usually preferable to foam rolling because a massage therapist can be more precise with his hands and knows how much pressure to use."

Many physical therapy clinics also provide massage services related to injuries. It can be expensive, however, and can require health insurance. Make sure to do some research on specialists in your field before you agree to book an appointment, to see if your insurance will cover any of the costs. You can receive a referral from your doctor.

What About The Ice and Heat?

Notwithstanding the age-long controversy, opting to use ice or heat does depend on the symptoms. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ice is commonly used on acute accidents, including ankle sprains. Applying ice to injuries can reduce circulation, which helps to bring down inflammation and swelling.

Yet if you are struggling with stress and knots in the muscle, heat is definitely the only way to go. By widening the blood vessels, heat relieves muscle tightness to improve circulation and reduce swelling.

"Since the knot is an irritated contracted muscle, you 're going to want to pick heat or ice depending on which one will help you relax more," Yuen says. "Water usually works better but there is no risk in trying both. 15 minutes is a decent rule of thumb."

How to Avoid Future Muscle Knots?

Besides treating muscle tightness, you'll want to take every possible step to prevent potential knots from forming. The pre- and post-workout routine is a great place to continue.

Don't Miss The Warm-up

As described above, knots can occur in improper form through overuse or training. To ensure that your muscles and joints are ready to train, start each workout with a dynamic warm-up (as opposed to static stretches). You are more likely to perform your workouts with a defective shape when you continue your workout without a proper warm-up session.

Make Sure You Cool Down Post-Workout

Create time, too, for a full cooldown routine before you hit the shower. Foam rolling, or other types of SMR, is a great start, but some brief dynamic stretching can also be implemented. You don't want to move outside the normal range of motion of your body though, Yuen says.

"Soft stretching can be beneficial, but usually vigorous stretching makes it worse," he says. "Dynamic stretching encourages greater blood flow and takes the muscle actively through its range of motion."

Smart Training

Space the exercises accordingly, ensuring that the same muscle group is not exercised back to back on days. It would assist with the avoidance and overuse of muscle exhaustion. Avoid any exercises which cause knotted muscle pain or pinching.

Yet you don't want to just quit working out, Yuen says. In fact, more often try to move or walk throughout the day. "Muscles work better when relaxing, stretching, and being able to get improved blood flow," he says.

A Healthy Posture

Another way to encourage good muscle function and reduce potential stress is by changing the regular stance, Yuen says.

Rearrange your workspace as appropriate, position your computer screen to the eye level and change your chair so you can sit comfortably in your knees with a 90-degree bend.

Get up and walk as often as you can, and even add a few dynamic stretches to your day at work. Increasing your regular movement will help increase circulation and significantly improve pain and soreness in the muscles.



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YourFitnessRink - Fitness and Health Matters: An Ultimate Guide To Clear Your Muscle Knots
An Ultimate Guide To Clear Your Muscle Knots
You might have gone a bit too far with the shoulder presses too much and now you feel it too. Maybe, before your race, you chose to miss your warm-up
YourFitnessRink - Fitness and Health Matters
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