Do you have any hard or stiff lumps of muscle? Maybe in your shoulders, upper back or neck? Do they feel tight and sometimes a little achy? Congratulations! You have muscle knots. And you’re not alone—muscle knots are very common.
These knots can actually show up in just about any of the large muscles on your body, but they tend to be more common in your upper back or shoulder muscles, right at the base of your neck. It can feel like a lump under the surface of your skin, and may or may not cause pain. In some people, large knots can press on a nerve, cause muscle spasms, neck or shoulder pain and even be a trigger for migraines.
To understand what a knot is, you need to know a little about the structure and function of your muscles. In general, your muscles are sheets of fibers, which are actually cylindrical muscle cells. These sheets of muscle fibers are layered one on top of the other, which usually run in a different direction from the layer on top or below. In order to perform its job of moving your skeleton, your muscles need to be both elastic and flexible. However, when a muscle becomes injured, overused, underused or dehydrated, it can begin to stick to the sheets above or below it, creating a knot of tissue, which can be painful and hinder movement in the muscle.
For many people, muscle knots don’t cause any problems. However, when they become large or deep, they can begin to cause you pain. These tender or irritable spots are called trigger points. If left untreated, your knot or trigger point can turn into a permanent muscle adhesion, which can create scar tissue, cause pain and limit your range of motion.
There’s good news, however. Muscle knots are treatable, but depending on how long, how severe or how large your knot has become, it could take some time to resolve it. At BodaHealth, we treat muscle knots with a number of different therapies, and frequently find that combining therapies to be most effective.
How Do You Treat Muscle Knots?
One way we treat knots is through trigger point acupuncture. Acupuncture has a long history of treating muscle knots, which are thought of as stagnant areas where circulation, energy and movement are hindered. In fact, in Chinese medicine painful knots or trigger points are called Ah Shi points, because Ah Shi means “That’s the sore spot!” Ah Shi points direct your practitioner to exactly the right spot to place needles during an acupuncture session. And while you may be thinking that it sounds painful to place a needle into an already tender spot, it can actually feel quite relieving and is quite effective in diminishing the achiness and loosening up the muscle tissue.
At BodaHealth, we also treat muscle knots with:
Shockwave therapy, which uses pulsed sound waves applied to the knot. This helps break down scar tissue and adhesions, promote circulation and helps speed healing.
Massage therapy has been a long-time method for resolving muscle knots—for a good reason. Massage helps to break down muscle adhesions, boost circulation, smooth and loosen tight muscles and relieve pain.
Tui Na is a type of Chinese medical bodywork that applies massage-type movements to acupuncture points and pathways. It can be an effective way to increase circulation, loosen tight muscular tissue and decrease pain associated with muscle knots.
Cupping involves the use of cups placed on your skin in which a vacuum has been created. It can be very effective for adhesions, with a pulling effect on your skin and muscles. Cupping also works to promote circulation and stimulate a healing response.
Gua Sha may also be used to effectively treat knots. Gua Sha entails scraping your skin with a blunt massage tool. It can affect deep muscle tissue to break up adhesions, improve circulation and promote healing.
Cold laser therapy, is a newer therapy at BodaHealth, which involves the use of low light laser therapy (LLLT) to safely and painlessly promote tissue healing at a deep, cellular level. It’s been found to be an effective therapy for a wide variety of musculoskeletal conditions, including muscle knots.
While it’s common for people to have muscle knots, not all knots create problems. If you have a knot that’s painful, triggers headaches or limits your activities, it’s time to give it some attention. At BodaHealth, our experienced practitioners can help relieve your pain or prevent loss of mobility associated with muscle knots. Give us a call today if you’d like more information about how we can help you!
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.