Massage & Facts on Muscle Knots

Some massage therapists and many clients still believe massage releases toxins—and massage therapists should avoid perpetuating this misinformation and instead educate clients on the truth when the topic arises.

If massage therapy is going to be respected as a valid health service, we cannot continue to perpetuate this misinformation.

Five organs process body-produced waste products: the skin, lungs, kidneys, liver, and intestines. Our bodies’ organs know how to process such products.

Old Myths Die Hard: The Truth About Toxins

Bio-transformation is the process by which a substance changes from one chemical to another by a chemical reaction within the body. Only when normal homeostatic processes break down do these types of substances accumulate and cause the accumulation of toxins in the body.

There are three main types of body-produced wastes:

  • Catabolic waste remains after the breaking down of large molecules into smaller ones for body processes and is removed from the body through the skin, kidneys, lungs, and intestines. Urea, ammonia, and uric acid are the three main wastes eliminated. Water is required to excrete these waste products. (This is why we need to stay hydrated.)
  • Metabolic waste is produced when a cell uses oxygen and nutrients to create energy. Carbon dioxide is the main waste product exhaled through the lungs. (This is why we need to exhale.)
  • Digestive waste is what remains after the digestion and absorption of food. These solids are eliminated through the colon. (This is why we need to have regular bowel movements.)

Yet, the ongoing confusion and claims that massage can flush out toxins—especially lactic acid—persists. Massage does not flush lactic acid out of the muscles because there is no lactic acid left in the muscles after about an hour.

A muscle knot is a painful or tender spot in a muscle. It feels tight and sore, and it often happens in the upper back or legs. They’re not usually harmful, but they can certainly be uncomfortable. In rare cases, muscle knots are a sign of a long-term (or chronic) pain condition. 

Chances are, you’ve experienced the tender, achy feeling of a muscle knot at some point in your life. Research has shown that muscle knots may affect up to 85 percent of the population. Muscle knots impair mobility, cause pain, and can reduce a person’s quality of life.

The most widely accepted definition for a “muscle knot” is a myofascial trigger point.

The current theory is that these trigger points are small patches of tightly contracted muscles. A highly localized, isolated spasm.

Once in spasm, the section of muscle manages to cut off its own blood supply, which leads to less oxygen to the muscle fiber and more contraction: a metabolic crisis. This creates a kind of “muscle sickness” that you feel like pain & discomfort.

What Are Muscle Knots?

If you’ve ever had pain in your back, in your neck, or under your shoulder blade, you’ve probably had a muscle knot. The name makes it sound like the muscle is twisted or kinked, but that’s not the case. Knots are usually a type of spasm that causes a small portion of a muscle to tense up. This tension can often be painful.

‌Muscle knots usually happen because a muscle has been irritated by a repetitive motion. Athletes will notice muscle knots after training one group of muscles for a long period of time. A muscle might also knot up when it’s in an awkward position for too long. Sitting at a desk or driving a car for a long time, especially without breaks, can irritate a muscle to the point of it “knotting up”.

‌Researchers have found that muscle knots don’t show up on scans, so they aren’t entirely sure what the muscle is doing to cause pain. Some doctors think the muscle spasms may affect blood flow, and that’s what makes the knotted area hurt. Other doctors say the pain could be caused by nerves that are triggered by the spasms.

No matter what causes it, a muscle knot is painful, and this pain can linger for days or weeks. The discomfort might affect your work or make it hard to do things you enjoy.

What causes muscle knots?

Muscle knots, also known as myofascial trigger points, are complex and have a variety of possible causes. There is a lot more research to be conducted on the matter, but the best available evidence suggests that muscle knots are the result of overuse such as heavy lifting or repetitive activities. Other causes may include:

  • Psychological stress
  • Poor ergonomics
  • Bad posture
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Joint problems

“Muscle fibers are made to move – contract and relax – lengthen and shorten,” says Dr. Adrian Chow, DC. “However, when we sit at the computer all day, with very little movement in between, these muscle fibers begin to stick to each other, forming a knot. Bad posture also puts stress on our muscles, and with enough time, this stress can cause the formation of scar tissue.”

What are the symptoms of muscle knots?

Pain is the primary symptom of muscle knots. Since everyone experiences pain differently, your symptoms may vary from those of someone else. However, most people agree that muscle knots feel swollen, tense, or bumpy, and cause an aching sensation.

Depending on where in the body the muscle knot is located, it may cause seemingly unrelated pain in other areas. For example, a muscle knot in the neck can send pain into the base of the skull, causing a tension headache.

Who is most at risk for muscle knots?

There are very few people who get through life without ever experiencing a muscle knot. Ninety-seven percent of people with chronic pain have trigger points, and 100 percent of people with neck pain have them. There are, however, certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing muscles knots. These include:

  • Aging
  • Disease
  • Stress
  • People with fibromyalgia

How are muscle knots diagnosed?

Diagnosing a muscle knot requires a physical examination by an experienced professional such as an LMT. The examiner will assess the area of concern for three things: a taut band of muscle, a tender nodule, and the reaction of the patient to physical pressure.

How are muscle knots treated?

Once you’ve been diagnosed, the question becomes “How do I treat the muscle knot in my back/neck/shoulders, etc.?” There are several options, but the most common include:

Whichever option you choose, the main goal is to release the trigger point to reduce pain and increase mobility by breaking up the knotted tissue and calming inflamed nerves.

How can you prevent muscle knots in the first place?

Because muscle knots are the result of overuse, stress, bad posture, fatigue, etc., your risk of getting a muscle knot can be lowered by resting and working on posture and overall lifestyle habits. Here are some tips:

  • Improve your posture by sitting in a relaxed position, with your shoulders back and down. Try your best not to slouch.
  • Take opportunities throughout the day to rest and incorporate exercise into your routine.
  • Don’t overdo it when lifting heavy objects. Ask for help, take it slowly, or move things in batches.
  • If your job requires you to sit for most of the day, take regular stretch breaks to prevent your muscles from getting too tight.
  • Make sure your diet includes a healthy mix of calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated.

Can you treat muscle knots at home?

While we recommend seeking the advice of a spine, muscle, and nervous system expert, there are some cases where you can massage the sore muscles yourself. Try following this simple technique:

  • Locate the knot in your muscle and, using your fingers, gently massage it out.
  • Focus on loosening the tight muscle by pressing down firmly and making small circles.
  • If you’re finding it difficult to reach the muscle knot in your back, neck, or shoulders, you can try using a tennis ball or foam roller to apply pressure to the knot. Slowly and gently move back and forth to relieve the tension.

Muscle knots in any area of the body are painful and frustrating. Now that you know what they are, what causes them, and how to treat them, we hope you’ll find relief and get back to enjoying your everyday activities.

How do I Know if I’ve Got TRIGGER POINTS?

Trigger points are crafty. They will often arise at the same time as other injuries, contributing to the pain and confusing the issue. They behave erratically and can be excruciatingly painful for days at a time and then just vanish – only to come back two days later.

They are also notoriously hard to find. I mentioned hard lumps at the start, but often there is nothing there that you can feel, or a hard lump you do feel is actually just normal hard tissue or bone. It’s very hard to determine a trigger point just by touch.

There are, however, key indicators that should tell you whether you have trigger point pain or not:

  • You have intense sore spots in muscles which produce a “yep, that’s the spot” sensation (often accompanied with writhing and expletives)

  • You notice a tight band of muscle along or near the sore spot

  • The pain you have is in muscles rather than in your joints

  • There is a dull, aching, nagging sensation in the muscle

  • Your muscle feels stiff, and areas of it feel weak and heavy

  • It’s painful or kind of uncomfortable to contract your muscle

  • It is aggravated by overexertion or effort

  • You have an old injury in the affected area

Trigger points are also characterized by referred pain – pain that travels out from the point itself in a predictable pattern. These patterns are fairly well mapped out in textbooks, but if you don’t know what they are they can make tracking down the culprit really tricky.

For example, a common pattern is a pain that comes up and over the head to behind the eyes, which is associated with trigger points in the muscle at the front of the neck. This is a common cause of tension-type headaches.

How do you release muscle knots?
Following are some things you can do to help break up the knots and find relief.
  1. Rest. Allow your body to rest if you have muscle knots. …
  2. Stretch. …
  3. Exercise. …
  4. Hot and cold therapy. …
  5. Use a muscle rub. …
  6. Trigger point pressure release. …
  7. Physical therapy.
What happens if you leave muscle knots?
Unfortunately, if left untreated, the muscle tissue will continue to lose elasticity and cause postural stress that is hard to reverse. It’s not all bad news and there are a lot of things you can do to treat and prevent muscle knots.
Can you pop a muscle knot?
Muscle knots are typically found in your back, shoulders, and neck. They are stiff bands of muscle that have a hard knob in the center, which is known as a trigger point. The pain can either pop up spontaneously (active) or when the trigger point is pressed (latent).
Trigger points

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 significantly 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 professionals. That way, you can try to pinpoint and treat causes while undergoing treatments for pain relief.

Benefits of Massage for Muscle Knots

You can use massage to treat muscle knots. Massage therapy increases circulation and improves blood flow. That can improve muscle function and help loosen up your muscles. This helps to relieve pain and stiffness.

What type of massage is best for muscle knots?
A deep tissue massage is the most effective treatment for muscle knots. When a muscle is tight, it limits the blood flow in that area so using a massage as a treatment technique for this works by increasing blood flow to the muscle, which can, in turn, reduce inflammation and ease any soreness and pain.
Can massage make muscle knots worse?
It may not be your lucky day and you may get to have your massage by a poorly trained therapist who uses a poor technique. The excessive pressure and kneading (to force the twisted muscle knots into a relaxed state) will then do more harm than good. In that case, your body won’t flush out the toxins.
Why does massage get rid of knots?
Massage therapy is one of the best ways to get rid of muscle knots. It increases circulation and blood flow to loosen the muscles and improve function. One massage is usually not enough to heal your muscles and this therapy should be paired with lifestyle changes to increase overall health.
Why do muscle knots hurt after a massage?
It’s normal to feel sore after a massage. The technique carries blood and nutrients to your muscles while eliminating toxins. After stimulating muscles that you may not usually use, you might experience delayed onset muscle soreness. This is a physical response to the inflammation as your body heals.
Does massage Really release toxins?
This is a fact: Massage has many health benefits. Massage can reduce stress, tension, heart rate, blood pressure, sore muscles, and joint pain. Massage can increase endorphins, blood circulation, and immune functions. This is also a fact: Massage does not remove toxins that are stored in the body.
Why do I have so many muscle knots?
Dehydration, unhealthy eating habits, and stress and anxiety may also contribute to muscle knots. Muscle knots can occur anywhere in the body, but they’re usually found in your back, shoulders, and neck. They often show up in your gluteal muscles, too.
Why does pressing on sore muscles feel good?
It feels great not only because the pain is triggering a release of endorphins, but also because circulation is increasing and inflammation from the knot is being released.

Can muscle knots be permanent?

The actual knot develops from your body trying to protect an injured, strained, or weakened spot. The muscles around the area will tighten up to prevent more injury. Knots are persistent and most will remain until the knotted area is broken up and the muscles contract.

Why do muscle knots feel crunchy?

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Essentially, muscle knots have reduced blood flow and circulation, which means toxins can become trapped in these areas. Over time, trapped toxins will solidify in the muscle knot if not dealt with, resulting in hard, crunchy bumps.
Are there toxins in muscle knots?
As knots are made up of toxins, this allows your body to relax and remove them from the area, alongside carrying nutrients to the area which weakens the strong and tense fibers. Massage can also directly remove or reduce the knots by applying direct pressure on the trigger points within the knot.
Do muscles release toxins?
The tissue breaks down and releases multiple toxic substances into the blood. The protein myoglobin is the most common. Once released, it can build up and cause blockages in the kidney vessels that if severe enough, will cause the kidneys to shut down.
Do massages help release toxins?
Toxin Elimination Through Massage
The physical stimulation created through massage therapy treatments helps dissolve and eliminate toxin buildup in the tissues. They are released into the bloodstream, which then works to transport them out of the body through excretion.
Do muscle knots release toxins?
These stuck-together muscle fibers act as trigger points as they are constantly contracting. This means they have extra metabolic waste (toxins that haven’t been flushed out) and are using up more oxygen.
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*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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