Muscle knots: Causes and treatment

muscle knotsMuscle aches after an intense workout are common. Common problem areas are the shoulders, neck, and upper back. Pain in these areas can make it difficult to move your muscles, often putting an end to your workout. This pain or soreness can last for weeks or even months. This may be the result of muscle knots.

Muscle knots are points within a muscle where contracted fibers are unable to release and instead remain tightened. They can be described as irritable localized spots of tenderness in muscle tissue.


The medical term for muscle knots is myofascial trigger points (MTPS). Muscle knots can be the size of a pinhead to the size of a thumb.

Muscle knots can cause pain in two ways. The first is through latent trigger points, which are knots that only hurt when pressure is put upon them. The second way is through active trigger points, which are knots that actively producing pain along your neural pathways, sending pain to other parts of the body.

How do muscle knots form?

Muscle knots are caused by injury (physical stress), toxic exposure (chemical stress), nutritional deficiency, or even emotional stressors. Any of these causes can lead to the development of contracted taut bands of muscle tissue. Occasionally, they can be felt thought through the skin and may be painless, but eventually, they will begin to shorten and alter your movement patterns.

The muscles in your body contain hundreds of muscle fibers. They work by shortening actin and myosin filaments within them, essentially causing a contraction of the muscle. When you squeeze your muscles, you effectively push most of the blood away from the muscle area. While your body attempts to make up for this by increasing blood pressure and heart rate, this initial lack of localized blood in the muscle fibers results in a reduction of oxygen and nutrients, which the blood supplies.

Taut muscle bands begin to run low on energy, or ATP (adenosine triphosphate). When there is a lack of ATP available for muscle cells to use, this can manifest as fatigue or pain. Also, when muscles are in a constant state of contraction and blood flow to the area has stopped, they produce excess metabolic waste, sending pain signals to the brain.

What causes muscle knots?

The most common cause of muscle knots is physical and mental stress. Not surprisingly, working out for extended periods of time can lead to the development of muscle knots and is a form of physical stress. However, mental stressors can also leave your muscles in a constant state of tension, leading to painful muscle knots. Mental stress can be difficult to remedy compared to its physical counterpart, but getting a good night’s sleep and performing deep breathing exercises can help relieve stress and anxiety.

The most common causes of muscle knots are:

  • Accidents: Such as falls or strains sustained during sports
  • Postural stress: Can occur due to poor posture, sitting with no support, or lifting heavy objects improperly
  • Overstimulation: Includes strenuous exercise such as sports or lifting weights

Dehydration may also be a cause of muscle knot development. If you are not consuming the recommended daily amount of eight glasses of water, it can affect out your muscle performance, leading to muscle knots.

How to get rid of muscle knots?

Muscle knots can be difficult to relieve and often times repeated effort and a variety of techniques are required to get rid of them. The following are some of the most common and effective ways to manage and relieve muscle pain that muscle knots may trigger.

Treating muscle knots

Visit a massage therapist: This is perhaps the best and easiest way to relieve muscle knots as therapists are trained professionals and know the best techniques for relieving knotted muscles. They will most often apply compression to the muscle and the area surrounding it, treating not only the knot but also the surrounding tissue.

Self-massage: This is a more economical choice, as massage therapy can be quite expensive. Giving yourself a massage can be an effective way to relieve pain. One method is to squeeze the muscle gently and rub it in a circular motion. It is important to do this all over the body and not just on the knotted areas. You can also buy several manual tools to aid in this endeavor, such as a tennis ball, which can be rolled around the area and used to apply light pressure.

Hot and cold therapy: By applying a heating pad or cold compress, you can relax the affected area.
Take a bath: The warmth from the hot water can help your knotted muscles to relax. You can also add Epsom salts to increase the bath’s effectiveness. Taking a shower with warm water can also be effective.

Stretch your muscles: Make a point to stretch to keep your muscles flexible. Exercises such as tai chi and yoga often combine relaxation with stretching to great success.

Regular exercise: By keeping your muscles active, you help stretch them out and maintain flexibility. Recommended exercises include aerobics and hot yoga. It is important not to overdo it as strenuous activity can lead to more muscle knots.

Adjusting your lifestyle

Find good posture: Your posture can contribute to muscle knot development. Having proper back support when sitting at a desk for long hours can help prevent the development of muscle knots. Using an ergonomic keyboard can also correct posture.

Meditation: This can help you be more aware of your posture and assist with relaxation.


Take your vitamins: Nutritional deficiencies can lead to an increased risk of developing muscle knots. Take magnesium, calcium, and zinc supplements and get your daily recommended intake of fruits and vegetables.

Try cognitive behavioral therapy: Not all muscle knots or pain can be treated with traditional forms of therapy, so psychotherapy can be a great alternative.

Related: Top 12 natural muscle relaxers to fix aches and pains

Author Bio

Mohan Garikiparithi got his degree in medicine from Osmania University (University of Health Sciences). He practiced clinical medicine for over a decade before he shifted his focus to the field of health communications. During his active practice he served as the head of the Dept. of Microbiology in a diagnostic centre in India. On a three-year communications program in Germany, Mohan developed a keen interest in German Medicine (Homoeopathy), and other alternative systems of medicine. He now advocates treating different medical conditions without the use of traditional drugs. An ardent squash player, Mohan believes in the importance of fitness and wellness.


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