Muscle knots are small, bump-like areas of muscle that can be painful to the touch. The medical term for muscle knots is myofascial trigger points. These knots occur when muscle fibers or the bands of tissue called fascia underneath them tense and tighten.

Doctors classify trigger points as either active or latent. With active trigger points, a person does not have to touch the trigger point itself for it to be painful. Latent trigger points are only painful if someone presses them.

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Myofascial trigger points can cause pain and affect range of motion, so the individual should always aim to treat them early. Learn more about treatment and prevention in this article.

Symptoms

Calf muscle knots causing pain in person squeezing leg.
Muscle knots commonly affect the calf and shin muscles.

Muscle knots can develop almost anywhere on the body where muscle or fascia is present.

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The knots feel as if they are small, hard lumps or nodules. A person may have to press deep into their connective tissue to feel the knots or trigger points.

Trigger points often cause what doctors call referred pain. When a person presses on the trigger point, the pain spreads from the trigger point to nearby muscles.

Sometimes, the muscle may twitch or move when the knot is pressed. This symptom helps differentiate a trigger point from a tender point. A tender point is an area that hurts only in the pressed location, and the pain does not radiate to other muscles.

Places where muscle knots commonly occur include:

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  • calf muscles
  • lower back
  • neck
  • shins
  • shoulders

The most common source of muscle knots is the trapezius muscle. This muscle makes a triangle-like shape from the neck to the middle of the back and the shoulder.

Tension and knots in the trapezius muscles often occur due to stress and poor posture.

Muscle knots can also cause additional symptoms, including:

Causes

Common causes of muscle knots include:

  • stress and tension
  • injuries related to lifting and repetitive motion
  • poor posture
  • prolonged bed rest or sitting without stretching

A person who spends a significant amount of time sitting at work may develop muscle knots due to staying in the same position for prolonged periods.

Risk factors

Man with neck muscle ache sitting in office chair.
Bad posture and a sedentary lifestyle may increase the risk of muscle knots.

Doctors have identified several risk factors for people more likely to experience trigger points. These include:

  • a diet that lacks a variety of vitamins and minerals
  • difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • history of joint problems and injuries
  • poor posture
  • sedentary lifestyle

People who play sports or work with their hands may also be at risk because they engage in repetitive activities. Repeatedly, doing the same motion can cause tension and knots over time.

Home remedies

People may want to try home remedies, which are often the first line of treatment for muscle knots. The individual should begin by evaluating why their muscle knots might have occurred.

If someone’s muscle knots are due to prolonged sitting or a prior muscle injury, engaging in regular stretching breaks may help reduce muscle tension.

People can also try:

  • applying a cloth-covered heat pad or ice pack to the affected area
  • aerobic exercise, such as swimming, jumping jacks, and cycling to loosen tight muscles
  • taking anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen to reduce muscle pain
  • If stress is the cause of someone’s muscle knots, they can take steps to reduce it, including:
  • taking short stretching and deep breathing breaks during the day
  • exercising for 30 minutes a day
  • reading a book or listening to music
  • getting more sleep at night
  • spending at least 15 to 30 minutes a day on relaxation techniques, such as meditation or gentle yoga

Self-massage

A person may be able to push or rub out the knot by applying steady pressure to the pressure point. With enough pressure, the knot will start to feel softer to the touch and may begin to release.

A person can also place a tennis ball between their back and the wall or floor and roll gently on the ball to massage the muscles.

People can also use a foam roller to massage the muscle and work out knots. A variety of foam rollers are available here.

Treatments

If home remedies do not reduce the symptoms of muscle knots, professional treatments are available. These are aimed at smoothing out the muscle knots and reducing pain.

Examples include:

  • low-level laser therapy
  • mechanical vibration
  • pulsed ultrasound
  • therapeutic massage
  • trigger point injections of local anesthetic, steroids, or saline

Less commonly, a doctor may recommend using a “stretch and spray” method. This involves spraying a cold solution onto the affected muscle. The cold temperature can temporarily reduce pain and any swelling, allowing a person to press and stretch the muscle knot.

Prevention

Woman swimming in pool.
Varying types of activity may help to prevent muscle knots.

Practicing good posture and engaging in regular physical activity are excellent ways to prevent muscle knots.

Many knots develop from repeated muscle trauma, so a person may wish to engage in different activity types to prevent overuse of the same muscles. Activities might include swimming one day and walking the next.

A doctor or physical therapist can help ensure a person is practicing the right postures when exercising or working.

Evaluating ways to practice better posture and form can help a person prevent muscle injuries and muscle knots.

Outlook

Muscle knots or myofascial trigger points can often be treated with simple home remedies and stretching.

However, some knots can be painful enough to interfere with a person’s everyday life and activities.

When this is the case, a person should see their doctor for treatment. When someone corrects the underlying cause, they will be able to improve their posture, reduce tension, and prevent muscle knots in the future.