If you’ve had a massage before, chances are you’ve heard your therapist say “oooh, you’ve got a knot right there!”
But what exactly is a knot?
If you look at the diagram of muscle structure at the top of this page, it’s easy to see why muscles are referred to using terms like ropey, stringy and knotty. Individual muscle fibres band together to form muscles, a bit like the individual threads of cotton combine and form string or rope.
However, contrary to popular belief, your muscles can’t actually get twisted, tied or tangled into knots like those found on ropes. Which is a good thing. Because if your muscles were twisted like the rope above, you’d need a lot more than a massage to recover.
So, what is a muscle knot then and why can massaging one help loosen tension whereas massaging a knot in a rope wouldn’t do much good at all?
Think instead of your muscle as a packed underground tube carriage on a busy evening … pre-coronavirus!
Refer back to the diagram at the very top of this page and the train represents the epimysium. All the tightly packed groups of people inside represent the individual muscle fibres.
As the train gets busier, the people furthest from the doors remain relaxed as people continue to squeeze in. Those by the doors however start to feel increasingly cramped and in response some of them stiffen up considerably.
That’s a ‘knot’ forming in the carriage – a concentrated area of increased tension and stiffness.
Similarly, muscle knots are thought to be small areas around muscle tissue that have become cramped and suffered a loss of bloody supply. This can cause the area to feel harder than other surrounding muscle tissue and is how muscle knots are most commonly discovered. It’s when your therapists feels muscle tissue that is more taut than she would normally expect, that you might hear her say “oooh, that’s a knot”.
Whilst muscle knots in themselves are not thought to be painful, the associated change in muscle structure can cause nearby nerves to become aggravated. This can cause the pain or tenderness we often associate with muscle knots. When this happens, the affected area is called a trigger point.
Been working from home recently? Many of us have – and in a space or on a chair that was not designed for long term computer use.
You might think that simply sitting in front of the computer all day cannot overwork your muscles, but you’d be wrong.
Combine poor posture, mental anxiety and a lack of hydration – unsurprisingly common ingredients during high-intensity Zoom calls – and you’ve got the perfect recipe for creating muscle knots and painful trigger points.
Drinking water regularly and following best posture practices during working hours can help reduce the chances of unnecessary muscle stress and repetitive strain injuries.
If you are already suffering from knots, then a session of massage therapy can really help soothe pain and ease tension. Choose a simple relaxation treatment like classic Swedish massage on a regular basis to gently soothe both your body and mind for longer term improvements. Or to increase your chances of a speedy recovery from knotty shoulders, techniques like sports massage, that target the myofascial layer and encourage increased blood flow to the region, can really help loosen up cramped muscle fibres for near instant relief.