Muscle knots suck. They are incredibly uncomfortable and in some cases extremely painful.
I’ve had upper back pain off and on for years.
I’m not talking about delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). That’s a good kind of pain.
I’m talking about sharp, deep, nagging back pain that radiates from my upper back through my arm and neck.
Muscle knots can be causes by a single traumatic incident, such as muscle strain, or brought on gradually through bad habits, like poor posture.
In this article I’ll show you three easy ways to relieve pain by self-treating muscle knots at home. I’ll also share some daily habits you can adopt to ensure long term relief from muscle knots.
What are Muscle Knots?
Muscle knots are also referred to as ‘mysofacial trigger points’. Fascia is a collegian based fiber that binds muscle cells together.
Fascia weaves through every part of our body like a big, interconnected mesh or net that holds us together. This is important to understand because a muscle knot may be a byproduct of an issue elsewhere in your body.
Look at it this way – Imagine a big spider web.
Imagine slowing pushing your finger into the web. The web will begin to stretch. Tension will build up in all the fibers of the web.
The spider web is like your fascia – an interconnected ‘web’ throughout your entire body.
Putting pressure on, or pulling one point of the web will create tension somewhere else.
That’s why when you hunch over your keyboard, or constantly look down at your smart phone, your likely to experience back and neck pain.
That’s because your chest muscles and trap muscles tighten to support your head and lurched shoulders. All the while pulling your shoulder blades up and forward.
The muscles attached to the base of your shoulder blade are now being pulled apart. The fascia, which encases your muscles, tightens, contracts and squeezes the muscle which restricts blood flow.
This is why muscle knots or upper back pain sometimes feel like a ‘pinch’.
The strained fascia packs together a group of muscle cells creating a ‘knot’.
When something ‘pulls’ on the net, tension results in ‘trigger points’ in other parts of the system.
Without blood, cells cannot get oxygen or nutrients to operate, they also can’t clean out wasteful by products. The pain is literally your muscles screaming for relief.
What Causes Muscle Knots?
Muscle knots are caused by overuse, underuse and improper use of muscles. Dehydration, stress, poor breathing, poor posture, and poor diet also contribute to muscles knots.
By overuse, I mean how much the muscle is used compared to it’s ‘companion’ muscle. (For example, how muscle the back muscles are trained compared to the chest muscles). Overuse is caused by imbalanced training which I will explain more later.
Underuse of muscles cause them to atrophy (weaken) and become less effective.
Muscles are cells just like everything else in your body. They need to be maintained with exercises and nutrition to function correctly. Underused muscles lose pliability and the ability to wash away toxins from cells.
This tension can block blood flow to the muscle tissue which can cause problems.
My back pain is aggravated by imbalanced training, poor posture, and stress.
Imbalanced training means I train my chest more than my back. This causes a pain in my upped back/trap because upper back muscles are getting pulled on because my shoulders is being pulled forward by my tight chest muscles as the contract.
Keep your shoulders back and chin up to help prevent this type of pain.
If I don’t train for a while I get stressed and when I get stressed my muscles get tense and when I’m tense my muscles ache.
I get a sharp pain about 2/3 up my shoulder blade, between the inner edge of my shoulder blade and spine.
It’s a nagging pain that ranges from annoying to borderline agonizing.
If I have an ‘attack’ at work, I have to do all kinds of weird arm motions and stretches to get momentary relief.
How to Get Rid of Muscle Knots at Home
The best thing to do is prevent muscle knots before they start.
Good posture and spinal alignment will help prevent muscle pain and muscle knots. With the environment working against you, this requires practice and conscious effort Weight training, breathing exercises, sit up straight and stand tall at all times.
I admit, it’s hard to do and takes practice to build up self awareness to maintain good posture at all times but it’s a must. Gradual effort will reward you over time.
That being said, the following are ways to help elevate back pain and work out muscle knots.
Treating knots should be a two part approach that includes massaging the affected area and stretching the opposite area. (Massage the upper back muscles that are in pain and stretch the chest and trap muscles.)
I’ve used all the techniques below to get temporary back pain relief. When I work out a knot I can feel a sensation in the forehead and all the way down in my hand on the side of my body the knot is on. This tells me the the nerves could be getting ‘pinched’ which is bad for your health any way you look at it.
(NOTE: I am not a Doctor. If you have a health or medical concern, you should speak to a licensed medical professional before you trying self remedy.)
Lacrosse Ball + Tube Sock
Put a Lacrosse Ball in a tube sock then Sling it over your shoulder.
Lean your back into a wall using the wall to press the lacrosse ball into your sore back muscles.
You can put constant deep pressure on the muscle or move around slowly to give yourself a nice massage. Adjust the ball as needed with the tube sock.
Foam roller are great for relieving back pain associated with muscle knots. tenderizing your muscles and surrounding fascia improving blood flow and working out the toxic build up.
When foam rolling your back, stay above your upper-middle back because going too low could result in injury if you don’t know what you’re doing.
I keep a foam roller my apartment and roll out when I feel tight and want to loosen up.
Trigger Point Treatment
Self Massage Stick is a great tool to give yourself a deep tissue massage. This self massaging apparatus looks like a torture device or something you’d find in a dominatrix lair, but don’t be intimidated.
Despite its menacing look, it’s an effective myofascial release tool that I’ve used to get relief.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.” – Ben Franklin
I’ve been to the Chiropractor a handful of times. It felt great and was a good learning experience. But don’t think that visits to the Chiropractor alone can cure what ails you.
Chiropractors give you temporary relief but 10 minute adjustment once a week won’t fix 10 hours of poor posture daily.
Athletic, deep tissue and relaxation massages are also effective ways to get relief.
However, trips to the massage parlor can get expensive if not covered by your insurance plan. (See if your insurance provider covers myofacial release. Some company insurance policies cover medicinal massages up to a certain amount each year, or at a discount or small co-pay).
In most cases, these treatments offer temporary relief. Maybe a day or a few hours. But if you’re not careful, your bad habits will take hold and reverse all the good you just did for yourself.
You need to make a habit of fixing your posture and reclaiming your health. The best way to deal with back pain is to prevent it in the first place.
There are a few ways to stop back pain before it starts. If you lift weights or exert yourself physically, you know that pain is part of the game and can never be completely avoided. But you should take measures to prevent undue pain and discomfort.
Balanced Weight Training
Make sure you train your back as often as you train your chest. In fact, your back comprises of 2x the amount of muscle compared to your front so you should train back with twice the volume as your chest.
Be sure to balance out your pushing motions with pulling motions.
Make sure you do your pull ups, rows and deadlifts with perfect form. Compromise your form and there could be conciquescens.
Nice smooth reps within the full range of motion are a good way to ensure full and balanced training of the muscle.
Practice Good Posture
When texting, eating, working, typing, reading, driving, sitting or standing, always practice good posture.
Always sit with a back straight and chest out and shoulders relaxed. Tight chest and shoulders cause back pain by pulling on your back muscles.
Don’t strain your neck leaning into your computer screen. Hold your phone up to your face instead of bending your head down.
Or keep your head up and look passed your cheek bones at your phone.
Stretch Your Muscles
Stretch your chest muscle and shoulder muscle thoroughly after each training session. Tight chest muscle created shoulders that round forward and pull your scapula up and away from your spine, butting tension on your rhomboids which can be painful.
I put a hard foam NERF basket ball between my shoulder blades, and the bottom of my shoulder blades and put it between my back and chair.
It pops my chest up and makes me sit up straight and gives me room to roll my shoulder back for a good stretch.
Stretch your chest muscles in a door way. Place your hands/elbow on the doorframe and lean forward. This will stretch your chest muscles.