Myofascial trigger point or “knots” is a common term used to describe tightness and hard bumps in muscles that are painful when pressure is applied. Generally, people complain of knots in their neck, shoulders and low back. But what are knots and how do they form? In order to explain this, we need to understand how muscles work.
When you bend your elbow, the muscle fibers in your biceps shorten (contract) but when you straighten the elbow, those fibers lengthen (relax). This ability to contract and relax is what allows us to move. But what you had a muscle that was in a constant state of contraction and was unable to relax? Overtime, it would probably feel tight, uncomfortable, and painful. The muscle becomes dysfunctional because it’s unable to relax, creating knots and trigger points.
The most common treatment to alleviate knots is to work on the muscle by getting a massage or trigger point therapy by using a foam roller, tennis ball, or Thera Cane. For some, it’s effective in relieving pain but for individuals with chronic muscle tightness, the relief is only temporary and comes back in a couple days.
The underlying causes of chronic neck and shoulder tension can include poor breathing mechanics, poor posture, and/or a heightened sense in your nervous system. The sympathetic system allows us to cope with stressful situations by elevating our heart rate, increasing our respiration, and tensing our muscles. Our parasympathetic system is responsible for the opposite and allows us to relax. The problem comes when our bodies are constantly in a sympathetic state.
In order for us to experience long term relief in our neck and shoulders, and decrease the knots in our upper trapezius muscles, we need to address the underlying causes. We need to retrain our bodies, on a neurological level, to relax. This is easier said than done. It takes time for that retraining to occur.
An easy exercise to do is to try and push your shoulders down, away from the ears. If you constantly shrug your shoulders up to cope with your stress, you may feel tightness and even discomfort in the collar bone. Be aware of where your shoulders are positioned throughout the day and make it a new habit to create as much space between your ears and shoulders as you feel comfortable.