How To Release The Muscle Knots Which May Be Causing Your Back Pain
If you want to get relief from your back pain you need to learn how to treat and release muscle knots as they develop and also how to stop them from returning.
Tight, stiff and painful muscles in the back and shoulders are a constant companion for many construction workers.
Which is no surprise really.
Because day after day of heavy manual labour can really take a toll on your body and leave you in lots of pain and discomfort.
The problem is that these tight and overworked muscles can lead to the development of muscle knots.
And these knots are seriously bad news for your back.
Because they can lead to further inflammation, pain and irritation within your damaged muscles unless you do something about them.
In fact muscle knots could even be what's causing your back pain in the first place.
So read on and find out why these knots hurt, how they are caused and how to release them to put your back on the road to a clean bill of health once again.
What Are Muscle Knots?
Muscle knots - also known in the trade as myofascial trigger points - are small areas of tight and contracted muscle that can form in the body and cause you pain and discomfort.
And this pain isn't always just limited to the area of the knot itself.
As it can also spread to other seemingly unrelated areas which can make finding the root cause of your back pain a difficult task.
This is because there are two types of muscle knots:
And more often than not it is these muscle knots that are causing your back pain rather than anything structural with your spine.
Now there are two main reasons for this:
And both of these things lead to further inflammation and pain within your muscles unless treated.
What Do Muscle Knots Feel Like?
You'll probably be able to feel and locate muscle knots by hand because they are small areas of clenched muscle fibers that ball up into a solid bump.
This is why a masseuse can normally tell if your muscles are stiff when they are working on you.
These bumps will feel tender, sensitive and sore especially when pressed upon and will leave the whole area surrounding them feeling achy and stiff.
This is because they are contracted muscles that can't rest or relax.
And the referred pain that come from active muscle knots should feel like a dull ache rather than a sharp pain.
This is usually a clue that the pain is coming from an active muscle knot rather than anything more sinister when pain suddenly appears in one area of the body.
What Causes Muscle Knots?
There could be a whole host of things that are causing your muscles knots such as:
- Having a bad posture whether you are sitting, standing, walking or exercising will put some areas of your body under undue stress, cause muscle imbalances and lead to muscle knots.
- Over-doing things at work or while exercising can lead to muscle knots forming due to overuse.
- Conversely a lack of physical activity can also cause muscle knots to develop.
- Accidents that cause trauma to the body such as strains, breaks and joint injuries can cause imbalances which forces the body to compensate and can lead to knots.
- Becoming dehydrated can cause your spinal discs to weaken which leads to more pressure on your spine and more muscle tightness.
- Suffering from stress and anxiety can make you hold tension within your muscles leading to tightness and knots.
- Eating an unhealthy diet - a lack of good nutrition can lead to painful inflammation in your back muscles.
So if you notice that any of the above may apply to you then you need to take steps to change a few things.
And I'll explain how you can do that in a little while.
How To Get Rid Of Muscle Knots - Release And Unblock
Learning how to release your muscle knots when they occur will be a major advantage for you and the health of your back both today and into the future.
As not only will it lessen your pain and discomfort.
It can also reduce the chances of the muscle knots returning again.
Because when you release these knots two things happen:
- Blood flow increases to the area again which allows your damaged muscles to get the oxygen and nutrients they need to recover.
- Pathways are unblocked which means trapped waste and toxins can be flushed out from the damaged muscles and eliminated.
This will bring you relief from the pain and tightness while also relieving tension in your back muscles.
So how can you get your muscle knots to release?
First of all you need to locate exactly where the trigger point within this muscle knot is.
Then you stimulate this trigger point by applying pressure to it which causes your tight muscles to gently spasm and release.
And your back will be much happier and healthier as a result.
Sounds good right?
And the good news is there are many ways you can achieve this and I'll take you through some of these now.
Get a Professional Massage
Getting a professional massage is the probably the best way to release tight muscle knots.
Especially if you can find a masseuse who has a good knowledge of trigger-point massage.
Because they will be trained to locate these tight areas of muscle in your body and know exactly how to manipulate them to release.
They do this by applying pressure in circular motions to the muscle knots and surrounding area.
This eventually causes the knot to spasm and release which will remove blockages and allow blood to flow to the area again.
And getting a massage will also help to relax your body and mind which will lower anxiety and stress levels making tense muscles much less likely.
Just remember if you go this route that communication is key.
Speak up and guide your masseuse to the exact point of your muscle tightness.
And also tell them if they are applying too much or not enough pressure. Don't suffer the pain in silence!
Between the two of you you can really get to the root of your problems and free your body of muscle knots.
Learn How to Self-Massage
While getting a professional massage is great it can be really expensive.
So if you want to save money you can teach yourself to work out your own knots instead (at least in your lower back).
There are four main trigger point locations where muscle knots tend to form that cause and contribute to your pain in your lower and mid back which are:
Clicking on each of the links above will take you to a page which tells you where to find that particular trigger point and how to treat it yourself with self-massage.
By applying pressure to each of the points with your thumb or fingers you can encourage the knots in them to release.
Try this for between 10-30 seconds each time and repeat the process a few times per day and see how you get on.
It certainly helped me to feel less tense and tight in that area.
However you don't have to rely on your own hands to massage away your muscle knots.
As there are a range of self-massage tools such as foam rollers, massage balls, massage canes and acupressure mats that can make this a whole lot easier for you.
And these are great because they can hit the hard to reach spots in your upper back and shoulders that your hands just can't get to.
Roll Out Your Knots on a Foam Roller
Foam rollers are a great way of getting right into your muscle knots and encouraging them to release.
They are commonly used for this purpose by physical therapists and professional athletes to help muscles recover from injury and intense exercise sessions.
And they are awesome for relieving tight and painful back muscles too.
To do this you need to lay your back down onto the foam roller close to your area of pain and tightness before slowly rolling your body up and down over it.
When you feel like the roller is hitting the eye of the storm of your muscle knot stop and hold this position for around 30-60 seconds.
A combination of your bodyweight and gravity will work to apply pressure to the knot and you should feel it spasm and release.
This feels really satisfying and makes the foam roller a great way of keeping muscle knots under control.
And if you want to try foam rolling for yourself the one I'd recommend is the TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller.
This one is firm and textured which makes it perfect for getting into hard to reach knots.
Check out the video below to see it in action.
Use a Massage Ball to Hit the Right Spot.
Massage balls work in a similar way to a foam roller however they can be even more precise when targeting specific muscle knots.
This is because you can roll them right underneath your knot and relax your body weight down fully on that particular point.
So again lay yourself down on the ball and roll your body over it until you find the 'sweet spot'.
Then relax down on it for between 30-60 seconds and wait for your bodyweight and gravity to do their work by stimulating your knot.
You should feel the pleasant sensation of release although it may take a bit longer sometimes so feel free to work on your knot a bit more if that's the case.
A good massage ball for the purpose of releasing muscle knots is the TriggerPoint MBX Massage Ball.
This is extra firm so works well for getting into those awkward and tight places.
And if you want to save some money a tennis or lacrosse ball can work just as well (see the video below for a guide on how to use them).
Cane Your Pain!
Massage canes look a bit strange on first glance but they can be super effective for releasing muscle knots.
And this makes them a popular choice among physical therapists and fitness coaches.
They are typically s-shaped plastic sticks with a variety of knobs and handles placed at different points.
The idea is to manouevre the cane into a position where one of the knobs is pressing into your tight muscle knot.
From there you can use one of the handles to pull forward which presses the knob deeper into the knot.
By applying this pressure you stimulate the muscle knot and encourage it to release.
And the good thing is that unlike massage balls and foam rollers you can adjust how much pressure you apply depending on how hard you pull the handle forward.
So you can get it so it's comfortable and just right for you.
And by keeping this pressure applied for a minute or two you should feel the muscle begin to release.
So massage canes are a cheap and handy tool to have around the home for when you're feeling stiff and sore and the one I'd recommend over all others is the Body Back Buddy Self-Massage Cane.
This one is a best seller and comes with 11 different knobs so you'll definitely be able to hit the right spot.
Take a look at it in action below:
Lay on an Acupressure Mat
Acupressure mats are the modern day equivalent to a medieval bed of nails.
But don't worry.
They are nowhere near as scary and are a great way of getting muscle knots to release.
These mats come with thousands of tiny plastic needles attached to them.
The idea is that as you lay your bodyweight down on top of these needles they will stimulate the various acupressure points of the body.
And by doing so this will unblock energy pathways which will increase blood flow and cause tight muscles to release and heal.
It will also help to flush away waste and toxins and reduce any pain and inflammation.
So to use the mat you place it on the floor and lay down on it (with your shirt off) and try to relax and switch off.
As a beginner aim for between 10-15 minutes but you can build this up over time to up to 45-60 minutes.
Acupressure mats are not just great for releasing tight muscles they can also bring you a variety of other health benefits too.
And if you are interested in trying one for yourself go for the Nayoya Acupressure Mat.
This one is lightweight and portable so you can take it with you on trips and holidays.
Plus it comes with an acupressure pillow so you can work on releasing muscle knots in your neck and shoulders too.
Take a look at how to use one below:
Use a TENS Units to Work Out Your Knots Electrically
If you'd prefer to let something else take up the slack of releasing your muscle knots rather than doing all the donkey work yourself then a TENS unit could be a good option.
These machines fight pain and muscle tension by delivering electrical impulses into your body through pads that you attach to your tight and painful areas.
And these impulses stimulate and massage your nerves and muscles in and around the area of your tight knot which increases blood flow to it and encourages it to release and relax.
So they are a great, safe and satisfying way of getting rid of pain and tight muscles.
And the TENS unit I'd recommend you trying is the HealthmateForever YK15RC TENS unit.
This one is great because it has so many different settings that make it easy to use.
For instance there are 20 different intensity settings so you can control how strong you want the electrical impulses to be.
Plus the 15 preset programs make it simple to get started.
And there is also a dual output option which means you can work on muscle knots in two different areas at the same time.
Take a look for yourself and see what you think:
Open Blocked Pathways With Acupuncture or Dry Needling
Getting acupuncture treatment for your muscle knots works along a similar theory to using an acupressure mat.
That is by stimulating your acupressure points you can open blocked pathways that allow an increase in energy, blood flow and clears out trapped waste and toxins.
All of which are great for encouraging tight muscles to release, relax and heal.
However unlike acupressure which is non-invasive and works by applying pressure to knots with plastic needles, hands, fingers and elbows, acupuncture uses the insertion of small, thin needles into your body.
These needles are inserted into various different acupressure points around your body as you lie down and are generally left inserted for between 10-20 minutes.
This is said to help the unblock the flow of the body's energy which re-balances you and gets everything working as it should again.
However acupuncture can be hit and miss.
While some people swear by it for relieving their tight muscles and back pain, for me it had little to no effect.
But what may be more effective than traditional acupuncture is to find someone who specialises in trigger point dry needling instead.
This is like a more aggressive form of acupuncture where the dry needlist will aim to get the needle right into your tight muscle knots.
And once they have got it in there they will work the needle until it forces the muscle to twitch and release.
It sounds painful but could be worth giving a go!
But just remember before trying any form of acupuncture or dry needling to do your research and make sure you go to a qualified and respected technician.
Using essential oils can be a great remedy for your sore and aching muscles, especially when used alongside some of the other treatments I've already gone over.
And these oils can also be great for helping to get rid of muscle knots because they can:
- Reduce pain and inflammation.
- Improve circulation to the damaged area.
- Reduce stress and help you to relax.
Some of the most effective oils to go for when trying to release tight muscles are:
- Lavender oil - The analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties in lavender make it great for treating muscle stress and tension. It also contains a mild sedative which calms your nervous system and is good for reducing stress.
- Peppermint oil - This one is great for relaxing the muscles in the lower back and reducing muscle pain. It contains an analgesic that helps you to sleep and reduces tension and inflammation.
- Helichrysum oil - This oil is great for people with fibromyalgia as it is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. And it's great for muscle knots as it reduces pain, inflammation and bruising while also repairing damaged nerves.
- Black pepper oil - This has a warming effect on your muscles which helps to relieve pain and improve circulation. It also has analgesic properties which help with your muscular aches and pains.
- Topical arnica oil - This anti-inflammatory aids healing by stimulating the flow of white blood cells which help to flush out trapped waste and toxins from your muscle knots.
And in general there are 3 different methods of using these essential oils:
- 1. Adding 10-15 drops of essential oil into a warm bath (this has the double benefit of the heat from the bath relaxing your tight muscles at the same time).
- 2. Mixing a few drops of the essential oil with the appropriate carrier oil to make a massage oil that you apply to the area of the muscle knot.
- 3. Adding a few drops into a diffuser before bed so you can inhale the vapours as you sleep.
Sometimes these oils are used on their own or they can be mixed into 'recipes' to make topical massage oils depending on what you need to use them for (for some recipe ideas click here).
However as they are so potent and concentrated they need to be diluted with an appropriate carrier oil first.
These carrier oils include olive, castor, sesame and coconut oils among others (check the bottle to see which one you need to use).
Just beware before using any of these oils to check with your doctor beforehand as some people can have allergic reactions.
And always follow the instructions on the bottle and do a test patch on a small area of your skin first to make sure you suffer no ill-effects.
Finally make sure you only use high quality essential oils to minimise the risk of any side-effects.
These oils may not be everyone's cup of tea but they can help to relieve pain, inflammation and tightness so they are worth a try if you are curious.
And they can also help in other ways such as helping you to relax, sleep better, shift migraines and headaches, and enhance your concentration, alertness and memory.
How To Prevent Muscle Knots From Returning
It's far easier and less painful to change your lifestyle so you are less likely to get muscle knots than it is to continuously treat them as and when they appear.
So it makes sense to look at ways of preventing them before they happen and these are some of the things that can help you to do just that.
Our bodies were designed to move however far too many of us don't get enough physical activity in our daily lives.
And this is bad news for our health in general and also our backs.
Because a lack of activity = muscle weakness = your body forced to compensate = muscle imbalances forming = muscle knots developing.
Staying active on the other hand will give you:
- Stronger muscles.
- A greater range of motion.
- Improved flexibility.
- A better balanced body.
- More support for your spine and lower back.
- And less chance of developing muscle knots!
So make sure you are getting enough exercise but at the same time don't overdo it as this can have the opposite effect.
Aiming for 30 minutes of exercise at a moderate intensity 3-4 times per week has been found to be great for people with chronic lower back pain.
Stretch Yourself Out Regularly
Getting into the habit of regularly stretching your body is one of the best things you can do to reduce your lower back pain.
And it is also great for preventing muscle knots from forming too.
This is because regular stretching will:
- Increase the flexibility of your body and spine.
- Reduce muscle tension and help your tight muscles to relax and release.
- Improve your posture which takes pressure off your body.
- Increase your circulation.
- Loosen and lengthen your muscles to stop them from tightening and forming muscle knots.
So get into the habit of stretching at regular intervals throughout the day and especially before and after strenuous work or exercise.
For an idea of which stretches to do take a look at this video from Fitness Blender:
Maintain a Good Posture at All Times
If you are going to avoid back pain and muscle knots it is vital that you maintain a healthy posture.
And this is the case whether you are sitting, standing, walking, working or exercising.
Because when your body is in a bad posture certain areas of your body come under increasing pressure and strain.
This is because your muscles have to work harder than they should to keep you upright.
And this leads to muscle imbalances, tight and contracted muscles, pain, tension, and the formation of muscle knots.
Good posture on the other hand keeps your body well-balanced and aligned.
This means that the pressure and workload of keeping you upright is spread evenly.
And there is no compensating, overworked muscles, imbalances and far less chance of muscle knots developing.
So take steps to learn how to improve and maintain your posture if you want to free yourself of back pain.
The video below has some tips on how to do that:
Make Sure You Are Working Safely
Working in construction can be hard at the best of times.
Things like lifting and carrying heavy loads and long hours spent digging and shoveling can really take their tool.
However when you don't take care of your body and muscles while you are doing the hard work you are just asking for trouble.
Because before you know it you could become another workplace injury statistic with back pain and muscle knots galore!
So a few things you should do to avoid this as you work are:
- Warm up and stretch your body before any strenuous work.
- Maintain a good posture at all times to take the pressure and strain off your muscles and lower back.
- Use the correct lifting and shoveling techniques to keep your back safe.
- Minimise any twisting especially when holding a heavy load.
- Keep your loads balanced not all to one side.
- Lift with your legs not your back.
- Keep your core muscles strong so they can support your back as you work.
- Take regular breaks to give your body a stretch and a rest.
- Don't overdo it!
By becoming more aware as you work you will have a far greater chance of avoiding tight muscle knots and lower back pain.
Don't Sit or Stand for Too Long
One thing your body hates is being stuck in the same position for too long.
This is because pressure and tension builds and builds which puts your muscles and joints under increasing strain.
This happens because:
- When sitting your vertebrae become compressed which leads to a weakening of the spinal discs that protect your spine.
- The muscles that support your back are inactive as you sit which also weakens them and means your back muscles become overworked.
- When standing there is an increased muscle coactivation of your hips, trunk and glutes which means they are overworked and under constant strain.
- Your lower limbs will also become fatigued after a while which will mean your back muscles have to work harder than they should.
- Blood flow and circulation become restricted when sat or stood in one position for a long time.
And these problems are made even worse when you are sitting or standing with a bad posture!
So to try and counter these effects you need to:
- Maintain a good position as you sit or stand.
- Fidget. Small movements can help to release tension and stop pressure from building up.
- Take regular microbreaks to stretch and mobilise your body again.
- Alternate regularly between sitting and standing if that is an option for you.
Doing this will give you a much better chance of avoiding muscle knots and back pain.
Learn to Relax
Stress and anxiety can quite easily lead to pain and tightness within your muscles.
This is because we tend to hold this stress within our bodies.
Our shoulders hunch, our muscles tense and our posture suffers as a result.
Which puts our bodies under constant strain and pressure which can result in muscle knots forming.
So to counteract this try to find activities that help you to relax both in your body and your mind.
Because by learning to unwind you can reduce your stress levels and free your body of muscle tension.
Some things that may help are:
- Taking a warm bath.
- Reading a book.
- Watching a movie.
- Cooking yourself a nice meal.
- Having a glass of wine.
- Meeting up with friends.
- Practicing slow breathing exercises.
- Doing yoga.
The list is pretty endless. Just try to find a few things that work for you and add them into your daily routine.
Because a relaxed body and mind leads to a healthier back in the long run.
Getting enough water is so important for keeping our bodies healthy and functioning well.
This makes sense when you think that your body is made up of 70% water!
And staying hydrated is vital among other things because it:
- Nourishes your cells, organs and muscles.
- Flushes out waste and toxins from the body.
- Helps to digest food.
- Keeps your spinal discs healthy.
And this final point is important.
Because when you become dehydrated your spinal discs can begin to weaken.
And this adds pressure onto your back muscles meaning they become overworked, tired and tight.
Which leaves you at a high risk of developing muscle knots.
So make sure you stay hydrated by regularly drinking water throughout the day.
You should be aiming for between 8-10 small cups.
And if you are not a fan of plain water try spicing it up with these fruit-infused recipes.
Eat a Well-Balanced Diet
A lack in certain minerals due to an unbalanced diet can also be the cause of tight and sore muscles.
This is an increasing problem in the world today because many of us are so busy we tend to grab food on the move.
And the problem with that is this food tends to be heavily processed and lacking in nutrition.
Which means our bodies aren't getting the proper nutrition they need to stay strong and healthy.
And when it comes to muscle tightness and knots three big problems are a lack of magnesium, calcium and potassium:
- Good magnesium levels are vital for keeping your muscles healthy and relaxed.
- A lack of calcium can lead to chronic muscle tension.
- Keeping potassium levels up is vital for your muscles to be able to work effectively.
However you can counter this by including foods in your diet that are rich in these three minerals such as:
- Magnesium rich foods - Green vegetables, whole grains, salmon, spinach, soy beans, nuts.
- Calcium rich foods - Milk, cheese, broccoli, kale, almonds.
- Potassium rich foods - Bananas, avocados, dried apricots, sweet potato, fish, pistachio nuts.
Alternatively you could take supplements or multi-vitamin tablets instead.
But mostly it is about being sensible with your diet.
So limit sugary and processed foods and instead make sure you getting enough fresh fruit and vegetables.
And keep meal times regular (including not skipping breakfast!).
This can all have a big impact on how your muscles feel and on your overall health too.
We are what we eat after all.
Muscle knots are a big cause of lower back pain.
And they can continue causing you pain, inflammation and discomfort unless you do something about them.
So have a go at a few of the suggestions for releasing your muscle knots that I've included here and see if it makes a difference.
Hopefully you should feel looser, more comfortable and in less pain as a result.
And try to make a few subtle lifestyle changes that will lower the chances of these muscle knots returning.
As it will make a big difference to the health of your back in the long run.
Resources used in researching this article: