What Is a Muscle Knot and How Do You Alleviate the Pain?

STACK Expert Matt Tanneberg describes the symptoms, prevention and treatment of muscle knots.

Muscle knots, also know as trigger points or adhesions, are common but not normal. These areas of tension in the muscles develop from different kinds of stress we put on our bodies. Muscles go into spasm from being sedentary, from overuse or from injury and stress. A sedentary lifestyle can also cause muscle knots, trigger points or adhesions.

When a muscle is stretched out too much—like when you slouch forward on your couch for hours—the muscles respond by going into spasm so they can't be stretched anymore.

Trigger points can be found in any muscle throughout your body.

RELATED: How to Release Muscle Knots and Trigger Points


What Is a Muscle Knot and How To Alleviate Pain

  • Nodules in the muscle are tender to the touch.
  • Range of motion is reduced.
  • Pain. Active trigger points have referral patterns (pain at a different spot than the injured area), while latent trigger points feel dull and achy right on the focal point. I've seen active trigger points mimic sciatica pain or carpal tunnel syndrome from the referral pattern.


Drink Water

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Move correctly and frequently.
  • Foam roll.
  • Warm up with dynamic stretching before exercise.
  • Cool down with static stretching after exercise.


Foam Roll

Implement therapy 3-5 times a week, holding each spot for 30 seconds at a time.

  • Foam rolling: Instead of randomly rolling around on a foam roller, use the foam roller on a muscle until you feel a tender spot (it will feel like a bruise), then stay on that spot for 20-30 seconds. This breaks up the muscle knot in your muscle. Spend approximately 5 minutes finding tender spots and working them out.
  • Tennis ball/lacrosse ball: Same thing as the foam roller. Stay on the tender spots for 20-30 seconds. Don't roll over them, since that can aggravate the muscle knots. Constant pressure on a knot will break it up.
  • Stretching.
  • Ice (20 minutes): Ice is a crucial addition to your cool-down. It helps alleviate muscle spasms and reduces swelling, which can be associated with intense conditioning and exercise protocols. Ice for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the muscle goes numb, and be sure to have a barrier between your skin and the ice.

Implement treatment in the order listed. First, break up the muscle knots with a foam roller or tennis ball, then stretch the muscle while it is more pliable. This will give you more range of motion. Follow this with icing to reduce inflammation in the muscle.

RELATED: How to Handle Muscle Soreness After a Workout

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