What’s Causing Your Muscle Knots? (And How Can You Get Relief?)

muscle knots relief

Have you ever experienced the tender, achy feeling of a muscle knot in your back, shoulders or neck? If so, you’re not alone. Research has shown that muscle knots may affect up to 85 per cent of the population, impairing mobility, causing pain, and in some cases, reducing a person’s quality of life.

Muscle Knots Defined

Muscle knots are stiff bands of muscle that have a hard knob in the centre, otherwise known as a trigger point. The pain can either pop up spontaneously (active) or when the trigger point is pressed (latent). In all cases, muscle knots cause pain to radiate beyond the trigger point and into the surrounding muscles.

The Causes of Muscle Knots

Muscle knots — or myofascial trigger points — have a variety of possible causes but evidence suggests that they are the result of overuse, with the most likely culprits being heavy lifting or repetitive activities.

Other causes of muscle knots include:

  • Psychological stress
  • Poor ergonomics
  • Bad posture
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Joint problems

Muscle fibres should contract and relax, lengthen and shorten. If you sit at the computer all day, with very little activity, your muscle fibres eventually stick together, forming a knot. Bad posture also puts stress on our muscles, and with enough time, this stress can cause the formation of scar tissue.

The Symptoms of Muscle Knots

The primary symptom of muscle knots is pain. Most people agree that muscle knots feel swollen, tense, or bumpy, and cause an aching sensation.

Depending on where in the body the muscle knot is located, it may cause seemingly unrelated pain in other areas. For example, a muscle knot in the neck can send pain into the base of the skull, causing a tension headache.

Are You at Risk?

There are very few people who get through life without experiencing a muscle knot. In fact, 97 per cent of people with chronic pain have trigger points, and 100 per cent of people with neck pain have them. Here are some of the risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing them:

  • Aging
  • Disease
  • Stress
  • Fibromyalgia

Muscle Knots Diagnosis

Diagnosing a muscle knot requires a physical examination by an experienced professional such as a chiropractor or registered massage therapist. The examiner will assess the area of concern for three things: a taut band of muscle, a tender nodule, and the reaction of the patient to physical pressure.

Treatment for Muscle Knots

The most common treatment for muscle knots include:

Whichever option you choose, the main goal is to release the trigger point to reduce pain and increase mobility by breaking up the knotted tissue and calming inflamed nerves.

Preventing the Formation of Muscle Knots

Because muscle knots are the result of overuse, stress, bad posture, fatigue, etc., your risk of getting a muscle knot can be lowered by resting and working on posture and overall lifestyle habits.

Here are some tips:

  • Improve your posture by sitting in a relaxed position, with your shoulders back and down. Try your best not to slouch.
  • Take opportunities throughout the day to rest and incorporate exercise into your routine.
  • Don’t overdo it when lifting heavy objects. Ask for help, take it slowly, or move things in batches.
  • If your job requires you to sit for most of the day, take regular stretch breaks to prevent your muscles from getting too tight.
  • Make sure your diet includes a healthy mix of calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated.

Self-care for Muscle Knots

While we recommend seeking the advice of a spine, muscle, and nervous system expert, there are some cases where you can massage the sore muscles yourself.

Try following this simple technique:

  • Locate the knot in your muscle and, using your fingers, gently massage it out.
  • Focus on loosening the tight muscle by pressing down firmly and making small circles.
  • If you’re finding it difficult to reach the muscle knot in your back, neck, or shoulders, you can try using a tennis ball or foam roller to apply pressure to the knot. Slowly and gently move back and forth to relieve the tension.

Muscle knots in any area of the body are painful and frustrating. Now that you know what they are, what causes them, and how to treat them, we hope you’ll find relief and get back to enjoying your everyday activities.

To learn more about how chiropractic care and massage therapy can help you manage your neck, shoulder and back pain, contact the Pickering Village Chiropractic & Massage Therapy Clinic at 905-427-3202 to book a consultation with a member of our wellness team.


With content from the Canadian Chiropractic Association.