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Muscle Knots: What science does and doesn't tell us

What are muscle knots?

Clients often come to my clinic complaining of having 'knotted' muscles or one particularly troublesome muscle 'knot', so a question I regularly get asked during treatment is ‘what is a muscle knot?’ A simple question which you’d like to think would have a simple answer. Sadly not. The science on what exactly muscle knots (also known as ‘myofascial trigger points’) are has been a hotly debated topic for decades with little conclusive evidence emerging to settle the discussion one way or the other.

Forgetting the controversial scientific debate, there’s no doubt that people can experience a very localised area of pain and tenderness within a muscle - sometimes with a palpable lump - which has long been commonly referred to as a muscle ‘knot’. The term can be useful for describing how your muscles are feeling but, in itself, can be misleading as muscles aren’t able to make knots as we think of them, like a knot in a piece of rope.

While the feeling of a muscle knot is all too real, what causes them is still unexplained. We truly do not know why these sore spots feel the way they do.

It may be that there’s increased tension in parts of the muscle or the fibres which make up the muscle. A muscle being often, or always, tighter than usual may eventually lead to irritation, causing that muscle to become tender and sore. Sometimes a slightly different texture can be felt in the tissue of the sore part of the muscle, potentially due to biochemical changes.

Another theory is that the muscle fibres, which are designed to slide past each other during the contraction and relaxation of a muscle, get stuck in the contraction phase due to overuse (such as suddenly going for a much longer run than you’re used to) or underuse (such as sitting in the same position at your desk for a long period). The theory is that the area of fibres that are stuck become irritated and sore, causing the pain, and the increased density of the contracted fibres create the feeling of the lump (or knot) in the muscle.

Currently theory is all we have. I would love to give you a comprehensive, scientifically-backed answer for exactly what is going on when you feel like you have a knot in your muscle but for the moment, we don’t know for sure.

What we do know is that there are several ways that you can combat that knotted feeling.

Muscle knot

Suffering from that knotted feeling in your muscles? What can you do to help yourself?

If underuse or inactivity is the culprit, try to prioritise regular, varied movement throughout the day, whether that’s taking a break to do some mobility exercises at your desk or going for a brisk walk at lunch.

If overuse is the cause, try to make sure that you’re getting a sufficient amount of recovery after exercise and that any increases in the intensity or duration of your sessions are gradual. Adding in some strengthening exercises to your routine could also help to ensure that your muscles are conditioned and ready for what you’re asking them to do.

Massage can help!

So far in this blog, scientific evidence has been lacking. However, science has shown that massage and soft tissue therapy can be very effective in treating muscular pain and tension, such as that ‘muscle knot’ feeling. Several studies have investigated the effects of massage on muscular pain and have provided scientific evidence supporting its benefits:

1. Pain Relief: A study published in the journal Pain Medicine found that massage treatment significantly reduced pain and improved function in patients with myofascial pain syndrome (a condition characterised by muscle knots) compared to a control group.

2. Improved Function: Research published in The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy showed that massage treatment resulted in improved range of motion and reduced pain in individuals with neck and shoulder pain.

3. Increased Blood Flow: A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine demonstrated that massage increased blood flow to the affected muscles, which is crucial for the healing process and reducing muscle tightness.

4. Reduced Muscle Soreness: According to research in The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, sports massage therapy can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and enhance muscle recovery after intense physical activity.

5. Psychological Benefits: Beyond physical relief, massage therapy has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, which can indirectly help in reducing muscle tension.

If you’re suffering from that knotted feeling in your muscles and are looking for some relief, get a treatment booked at Reaction Therapy in Abingdon. There are 3 ways to book: you can book online, email or call/message 07502 400900.


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