Muscle fibers run in all different directions in our body and muscles are layered on top of each other from our heads to our toes. This is a good thing and the reason why we can bend, twist, dance, and play sports. Our muscles are meant to be pliable, strong, and challenged. However, when we sit at a computer all day in the same position and if we injure ourselves, or if we are chronically dehydrated, we can lose our mobility and flexibility. The various muscle fibers start to stick to each other and become adhered. This new hard and lumpy feeling is a muscle ‘knot’.
Muscle ‘knots’ are incredibly common but common doesn’t mean they are normal or harmless. Chronic stress on our muscles creates micro-tearing of muscle tissue, which creates scar tissue. Unfortunately, if left untreated, the muscle tissue will continue to lose elasticity and cause postural stress that is hard to reverse. It’s not all bad news and there are a lot of things you can do to treat and prevent muscle knots.
Prevention – how to avoid getting muscle knots in the first place:
Diet and hydration – Drink plenty of water and eat a healthy diet. Foods such as alcohol, sugary caffeinated drinks, processed and fast foods all play a part in dehydrating you. If you are careful about what goes into your body, you are less likely to get injured.
Take breaks – Most people spend a lot of their day sitting in front of a computer or staring down at a cell phone. Our bodies cannot handle being in those positions too long. Every hour at work, get up and walk around. Even when sitting at your desk, straighten out your back, turn your neck from side to side, uncross your legs, and move as much as you can.
Exercise – As previously stated, our muscles were designed to be challenged. We are built to perform. If we aren’t moving, stretching, and lifting then we are compromising our muscle health.
Massage – We are slowly starting to come around to the fact that massage is not just some occasional luxury saved for vacations and spa days. Massage Therapy can help keep your muscles healthy, pliable, and oxygenated.
Lifestyle – A life filled with stress and lack of sleep is a perfect pathway to injury. Slow down, get more sleep, and breathe. Even as little as 15 minutes a day of focused relaxation time can make a world of difference.
Treatment – what to do if you already have muscle knots:
Rest – If you’re in pain, it is your body’s way of saying it needs a break. Maybe, you take a few days away from the computer or a few days away from the spin bike. You need a break from whatever is causing the pain.
Massage – Massage Therapy is not only great for prevention, but a good clinical massage therapist can help relieve that muscle pain, break up the adhesions, and recommend self-care that you can do on your own.
Physical Therapy – If you have been in pain for a while, physical therapy can really help. Not only will the treatment consist of manual therapy like massage and stretching, but the therapist can help identify the underlying causes, and give you a home exercise program to keep you healthy after therapy. Also, some PTs are trained in specific modalities that may help such as ART, Dry needling, and Graston.
Stretching – Gentle movements by going through your full range of motion can be very helpful. Do not push stretches too hard without discussing first with a Physical Therapist, Massage Therapist, or Athletic Trainer. You can over-stretch, and just because a muscle is hurting, doesn’t mean it needs to be elongated. Sometimes the opposite is true. However, gentle, full-body movement is usually a good idea as long as it is pain-free.
So, move around. Get a massage. Go to bed a little earlier. Drink more water. Your body will thank you!