Understanding Muscle Knots and How to Find Relief

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rear view of woman holding her neck/shoulder

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 percent 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?

Very few people get through life without experiencing a muscle knot. In fact, 97 percent of people with chronic pain have trigger points, and 100 percent 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 result from 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.

Tips for Avoiding Injury While Working Outside This Spring

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After a winter (and several lockdowns) spent indoors, it’s only natural to want to head outside and enjoy the warmer weather. As we head into the Easter long weekend, it’s safe to assume that many of you will be out surveying your lawn and garden. Maybe even doing some raking and tidying up. Before you pull on your gloves and get to work, our chiropractic and massage therapy team encourage you to do some stretching and pace yourself as you start this new activity.

According to the Ontario Chiropractic Association, gardening is the most common source of back and neck pain reported by patients in the warmer months.

When the warm weather returns, ease into your activities and follow these tips from the Ontario Chiropractic Association.

  1. Have the right tools for the task at hand.
  2. Ensure you drink plenty of fluids.
  3. Alternate between light and heavy jobs.
  4. Lift correctly.
  5. Take frequent breaks.
  6. Heavy loads should be shared.
  7. Your feed should be protected with thick-soled supportive shoes.
  8. Before you start, warm up your muscles.
  9. Avoid muscle strain, learn the right techniques.
  10. Change positions frequently.
  11. Kneel to plant and weed.
  12. Spinal check-ups can help keep your back healthy.

How can chiropractic and massage therapy help with your low back pain?

Chiropractic treatment relieves low back pain using effective clinical tools like manipulation, mobilization, soft tissue therapy, exercise, patient education and rehabilitation.

Extensively trained in spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), chiropractors are proficient in providing specialized care which has been proven effective in reducing pain, improving function, and decreasing the chances of low back pain becoming a chronic condition.

Ajax chiropractors Dr. John Noble and Dr. Mark Fera can provide education on your spine and posture and create a personalized treatment plan for your low back pain designed to ease pain and lower your risk of recurrence.

Therapeutic massage therapy is also available at our clinic by Ajax massage therapists Rolf Castanheiro and Jessica Raedisch. Call 905-427-3202 to book an appointment.

With files from the Ontario Chiropractic Association.