You probably know the feeling. You have a sore back, so you ask someone if they can work on it. As they blindly attempt to massage your back, their finger rolls over a lump that causes a twinge of pain. You might scream out while they proclaim they’ve found something, which they then attempt to “work out” by vigorously beating and kneading like so much bread dough.
This is what most refer to as muscle knots. But what exactly is a muscle knot? You might be surprised researchers haven’t arrived at a consensus.
Myofascial Trigger Points
Those who study and treat knots define them as areas of muscle that tense and relax repeatedly. This is caused by overuse or misuse. A good massage therapist can identify what side you sleep on or what hand you use for your mouse based on where your tension shows up. Of course, not every bump your buddy can feel in your back is a muscle knot. Connective tissues and bones can feel like tense muscles to the untrained hand, which is one reason why you might need to see a professional for long-term relief.
One theory purports that tension causes a lack of blood flow to the tissue, so you should always stay hydrated. Of course, hydration is generally an all-around good idea for health and wellness. Though good advice, it doesn’t untangle the knot mystery.
Knots Showing Up on the Scanner
Some researchers say muscle knots don’t exist because they do not show up on scans. Instead, they contend the soreness is caused by neural pain. The symptoms are real, but the cause might not be an area of particularly tense muscle.
Whatever it is, if your back hurts, you are probably more interested in relief than knowing the specific cause. Massage should help relieve the pain you experience, and it’s best done by a professional therapist to avoid complicating any underlying issues with your back or neck. If you experience significant increased pain or no relief at all after a massage, there may be another cause. Ideally, your massage therapist should be part of a team of pain relief specialists. That way, you can try to pinpoint and treat causes while undergoing treatments for pain relief.