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  • Aryel Thayer, NMT

What is a muscle knot, why does it happen, and what you can do to relieve it?

Updated: May 25, 2019


A "knot" is the most common ailment that many would seek massage therapy for, but what exactly is that achy, lump that's been stuck behind your shoulder blade for weeks? In simple terms, it's a muscle that has been aggravated in one or more of these ways: it either has been over used, used incorrectly, "misaligned" for an extended period of time, (like when you sleep wrong), or formed after an injury.


To elaborate, a muscle's natural state is to be contracted, thankfully we have muscles that pull in opposite directions to keep us from remaining in the fetal position! This is called an agonist and antagonist relationship, I'll go into detail about that in another post. Once the muscle is contracted due to one of the above aggravators, it becomes much more difficult to let go on its own. This is because once a muscle becomes palpably tight, it is effectively restricting blood-flow to itself. Why is this important? Because our blood carries the essential nutrients for muscle activity; magnesium, potassium, ATP, etc.


So then if your muscle is stuck because of the lack of nutrients that make it capable of moving, how do you resolve this issue? The good news is, the solution is simple and painless! Just a few simple directions can get you out of pan and back to doing what you love:


1) Rest the affected area. If you suspect the knot was formed due to repetitive stress or misuse, then the first thing to do is to stop doing what you're doing for a while and give your body a break. If the injury is due to working conditions, sick leave or disability leave will be a much better option than if left untreated, which can lead to much more serious complications, (which, yes, can come from having tight muscles).


2) Take a warm bath. I can not say it enough - muscles LOVE moist heat! I don't mean laying on a heating pad, those give off a dry heat and will only sit superficially on the body. Moisture will sink into the deeper layers of muscle tissue and allow for greater relaxation. If a hot bath is not feasible for you, you can find my favorite self-care tools and moist-heating pads here. Heating the area will also facilitate the movement of blood-flow to the affected area, flooding it with nutrients, and allowing it to release.


3) If you've tried all of the above, or your knot was formed from an injury, then your best course of action is to manually manipulate the tissue through massage therapy. Massage is the most effective way to relax tight muscles because it encourages your full body to relax, opposed to you consciously making the effort yourself. The active kneading, stretching, and warming of the tissue by the massage therapist will get rid of the knot faster and keep it away longer.


In my clinic, I prefer to use warming agents such as towels, ointments, and stones to heat and relax the affected tissue, combining rest, heat, and manual therapy to give you the most effective treatment possible. Receiving massage therapy treatment as soon as a knot or injury occurs is the best way to prevent chronic pain and tension.



These symptoms could be a sign of an active trigger point, a more serious aggravator that will be addressed in a later blog post.


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