Muscle Knots: Degunking Muscle Maladies

Updated on November 2, 2017
Vicenza1984 profile image

I am a massage therapist and work for a local chain in my area. I love that I help people feel better!


"What are muscle knots? Where do they come from?" These are two of the most common questions I get as a massage therapist. My light-hearted answer to these two questions is, "Well, cells poop!" This often elicits laughter; then I proceed to explain.

Knots, in reality, are no laughing matter. They cause a lot of discomfort and can even inhibit movement. A knot in the wrong place can affect something as simple as breathing. I had an experience with a client who is a singer. She called the center where I work in a panic. She had a gig that night and was unable to sing. Inhaling was agony for her, and during the consultation part of the massage she said her back felt tight. It turned out my client had a good sized knot in her lower trapezius/rhomboid area. It took two massage therapists to work the knot out. I worked on the knot the first day and got her to the point to where she could sing without pain. On the next day, she returned, and a fellow therapist worked on the rest of the adhesion because my fingers were too sore from the previous day.

To understand what knots are and where they come from, it is first important to know how a muscle contracts. The whole process is amazing! It is fascinating to think this is happening in the body each time a person moves. The explanation is scientific, so bring out your science cap.

Muscle Contraction

There are two movements a muscle can make. The first movement is concentric, which is shortening the muscle. A good example of concentric movement would be doing a chin-up on a bar. The bicep muscle is shortened to bring the chin up to the bar. The second movement is eccentric, which is lengthening the muscle; this would be extending the arms to come down from the bar. A second way to understand concentric and eccentric movement is a sit-up. Concentric movement would be bringing the upper half of the body closer to the knees, and eccentric movement would be returning the lower half of the body to the floor position. In this article though, when I speak of muscle contraction, I am talking about the movement of a muscle in general.

Muscle movement begins at the cellular level. The two proteins that make this movement possible are myosin and actin. When the two proteins come together, they change the shape of the muscle cells. The contraction (movement) of the muscle happens when the actin filaments (the filaments are rod-like structures) glide over the rod-like myosin filaments. It is the glide movement that changes the shape of the cells which makes a contraction or movement.


So, now that the explanation of how muscle contraction (movement) happens, the next question is, what are knots? Honestly, there is no concrete answer. The current thinking is that knots are a build-up of metabolic waste from the cell. The build-up of this cell waste occurs when the smallest unit of the muscle, called a sarcomere, stays contracted, due to overuse of the muscle or other factors such as fatigue, trauma, pain, or stress. This permanent contraction of the sarcomere cuts off its blood supply. The result from this “strangulation” is an augmentation of waste which irritates sensory nerve endings.

Parts of a muscle
Parts of a muscle | Source

The sarcomere consists of overlapping proteins. These proteins look like two three-pronged rods coming at each other from opposite directions. These rods that are being pushed together contain the protein actin. When the muscle contracts, the proteins actin (on the rod) and myosin (on the muscle fiber filament), latch onto each other and pull, furthering the overlap of the rods. When the muscle lets go of the contraction, the proteins just release. There are times, however, when the proteins in the sarcomere grab onto each other during muscle contraction and do not let go when the muscle is relaxed. Instead, the proteins interlock even more tightly. This would be like pushing these rods together until they overlap to the point of being jammed together. When this occurs, the waste from the muscle cell begins to build up and the person develops what the layman calls a knot and what massage therapists call a trigger point or adhesion.

Self Help

The next question is, what does a person do to get rid of these pests that can bring life to a screaming halt? Here are some things that can help:

Massage—Get a massage on a regular basis, meaning at least once a month.

Stretch—A regular stretching routine keeps the muscle lengthened and flexible. The routine does not have to be a long one. 10-15 minutes of stretching each day is very helpful to the body.

Tennis Ball Therapy—Rolling a tennis ball in the affected area alleviates muscle tension. If there is tightness in the neck, roll the tennis ball there. Sitting on a tennis ball can reduce gluteal tightness. The tennis ball can be placed between the person and a wall or the floor. If experiencing tightness at the sacroiliac (SI joint) area, place a tennis ball at the SI joint and the wall (if standing) or the floor (if lying down), and push on to the tennis ball. This is using the body’s own weight to relieve tension. Foam rollers are another tool that can be used to lessen the tension that results in a knot. This is great therapy between massages and chiropractic appointments.

Drink plenty of water—Water! Water! Water! It simply cannot be overstated. Keeping hydrated keeps the muscle moving smoothly and the metabolic waste flushed out.

Hot Soak in the Tub With Epsom Salt—Reduce muscle soreness, relax muscle tightness, and draw toxins out of the body. Adding aromatherapy can be an extra benefit to aid muscle relaxation. Adding a few drops of lavender, tea tree, and rosemary oils into the bathwater encourages tension release and is also mentally and emotionally cleansing.

Don't Overuse the Affected Area—Switch things up! If you carry a bag, purse, or backpack more on your right side, switch to the left every once in a while or vice versa. Be aware of your posture. How do you sit? Do you slouch? Do you lean more to one side than the other? These are all things that contribute to body tension and knots.

Ergonomics—Another aspect of life that is perhaps the number one reason people have knots is the workplace. Most people work sitting at a computer. They spend hours staring at computer screen, with the head jutting out. This position puts a tremendous amount of stress on the neck, head, back, and shoulders. The average human head weighs between 8-10 lbs and sits on a tiny vertebra called the atlas. So remember this, and be kind to yourself! Look around your office or workstation and see what changes can be made. Adjust your computer screen to where it can be viewed with your head in a neutral position. Can the keyboard on the computer be adjusted so that the wrists are also in a neutral position? What about the chair you sit in? If you suffer from low back issues due to sitting all day, a lumbar pillow gives this area support. Again, adjust the chair to where the thighs of your legs are even with your pelvis. If the chair cannot be moved, a footstool will accomplish the same effect. One other very important thing you can do is get up every half hour or so. The human body is designed to move, not sit in a cramped space all day. So get moving!


Unfortunately, as long as we breathe and move, knots are something that will always have to be dealt with. It is the stress on the body that causes tension or tightness, tightness/tension keeps the muscles contracted, and constant contraction of the muscles causes: KNOTS!

I hope that the readers of this article find some helpful advice on how to deal with these maladies that can, at times, make life uncomfortable. Keep in mind, your body rules! Be good to yourself!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)