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What is a muscle knot in your back?

Lady in running clothes in a park setting. Sunset in background
What is a muscle knot, and what causes them? Muscle knots accumulate in places liable to hold tension, like your back, and can be uncomfortable. Learn more here.

Got a pesky knot in your back that’s giving you bother? We’ve all been there. But you might be wondering what they actually are? Is it literally a knot in your back muscles? And what causes them? Find out the answers to all of your muscle knot-related questions right here, so you can learn how to keep them at bay in the future.

What are muscle knots?

Muscle knots are hardened and tight muscles which feel tense, even when you’re not activating them with exercise. Normal muscles contract when in use and relax afterwards. Sometimes, they don’t relax post-contraction, and that’s when a knot is formed.1 Knots are a tight band of muscle located in a trigger point, which is why they’re also known as myofascial trigger points.

They accumulate in places liable to hold tension, like shoulder blades. A knot is an appropriate name, as muscle knots can feel like a rope under the skin when probed with fingertips.

4 causes of muscle knots

There are actually a variety of reasons why you may get knots in your back, from what we put into our bodies to the way we hold ourselves. Here are some of the most common causes of muscle knots in a bit more detail:

1. Dehydration: 

Not drinking enough water can contribute to the development of muscle knots, as can eating sugary or high-fat foods which can dehydrate you.2 Be advised that caffeine and alcohol may also be dehydrating.

2. Sedentary lifestyle:

While you might think that not moving much could prevent muscle knots, the answer is actually the opposite. Muscles actually become overstretched through inactivity and stiffen so they cannot stretch further, which can lead to muscle knots.3 That’s why adding more movement, like ab workouts or cardio could potentially help you avoid getting muscle knots.

3. Overuse

On the other end of the spectrum, overusing your muscles might injure them, causing sore trigger points in your back muscles. In particular, it’s often repeated movements or heavy lifting which make a muscle tense - for a prolonged period can cause knots.4

4. Poor posture

It comes as no surprise that your posture can have an impact on your back, shoulder and neck muscles. Slouching can put additional pressure on the spine, which can contribute to knots developing in the back, shoulders, and neck.5 So why not try some daily posture exercises to help support your muscle health?

How to relieve knots in your back

Most physiotherapists advise massage as the best management method.6 If you intend to massage at home, apply vigorous pressure to the affected area with your hands. Locate the knot and work the tightened area with your fingers until it becomes loosened. If you don’t want to use your hand, use a foam roller or ball to relieve pressure.

If that fails to work, consult your GP or a private physiotherapist. The GP may recommend injections to loosen muscles.7 Physiotherapists may recommend stretches or suggest acupuncture treatments to relieve discomfort.8

How to prevent muscle knots from developing

The best thing you can do to prevent muscle knots developing is to work on your posture. Exercises like yoga can help correct posture and improve spine health.9

Here are other ways you can prevent muscle knots developing, while also working on your postural muscles:

Exercise regularly

Maintain an active lifestyle by working out, walking, and completing chores energetically to reduce your likelihood of developing knots.

Rest when sore

If you’re sore after a sweat-session, don’t push yourself back on the mat or to the gym just yet. Allow your muscles to rest so they don’t tighten and develop knots from overuse.

Eat healthily

Enjoy lots of delicious, water-rich vegetables which help to hydrate you, instead of indulging in dehydrating, high-fat, high-sugar foods.

Stretch regularly

Regularly stretch while sat still and incorporate stretching into your daily routine to encourage good posture and keep muscles supple.

The final say

Muscle knots can get in the way of your daily life, so it’s important to make sure you’re taking the precautions to keep them at bay. That way, you can live your best, healthy life without having any soreness to contend with. Having said this, it’s important to get medical advice on any aches and pains, as a professional can provide you with personalised information.

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