What is a Muscle Knot?
I get asked this question often from clients who get regular massage, to new clients on the table. Most people have heard of the concept of a muscle knot, but what are they exactly? And what’s the relationship between a muscle knot and a trigger point, another term that gets passed around frequently?
What’s a trigger point?
Trigger points are simply tender spots on your body that ‘trigger’ or cause discomfort somewhere else in the body. If the discomfort is just localized to that spot, then it’s called a tender point. These tender spots, with or without triggering referral pain to another part of the body, are common and many of us have them. For some people they can become really troublesome, causing headaches and chronic pain. They are common in hot-spots like shoulders and neck, but they can crop up just about anywhere and in some people, they can cause severe pain.
A trigger or tender point is like a ‘knot’ in your muscle or the fascia (the thin wrapping around each muscle) which is why they are often referred to as a muscle knot. To a massage therapist, it feels like a hard contraction on the muscle fibers connected to it, like a tight band around the muscle. Trigger points in muscles are ‘myofascial trigger points’ – and there are other types of trigger points that can occur around the body, on your skin, ligaments, and tendons, and on scar tissue.
How can you tell if you have a muscle knot or trigger point?
You’ll be able to tell where your own knots are; if you touch them with any kind of pressure, you’ll notice they start to hurt or hurt more. If it’s a trigger point, you will start to feel sensation in another part of your body. They are often situated close to problem areas for you as well, so if you have back issues, your trigger points are likely to be around your back, neck, and shoulders, although this isn’t always the case. The range of sensations you might feel from a trigger point can be quite wide, too; anything from intense pain to a dull, throbbing ache. Some people feel ‘pins and needles’ or numbness. The type of pain associated with the knotted area will help your therapist determine how to properly address the problem.
So, what causes trigger points to flare up? One theory is that they are due to muscular overload – if you’ve been working out too hard or overdoing it, or not taking care of your posture.
How are Trigger Points treated?
If you notice a sore spot, the first course of action is to make sure that any swelling or soreness is just due to muscular stress and nothing more serious like an injury or illness. Once you’ve ruled those possible causes out, sometimes by seeing your primary care physician, a massage therapist can start to look at the problem and help you to heal it with a massage.
A good massage therapist will be able to work on your trigger points and muscle knots by gently but firmly releasing them. They can also help you with in-between treatment techniques to try at home that will ease any discomfort and help to prevent the muscle knots from building up again.
Trigger points and tender spots can cause a huge amount of pain and discomfort, often restricting your movement and your ability to do the activities you want to. You don’t have to put up with this pain though, with some action on your part you can be pain-free!