A muscle knot is often called a myofascial trigger point in the medical world. What causes a myofascial trigger point is unclear, like many things in science! The general consensus is overused muscles, overload, or direct trauma. Muscles can become overused from sustained or repetitive low-level muscle contractions, like poor posture! Regardless, trigger points are often defined as “tender spots in discrete taut bands of hardened muscle that produce local and referred pain.”
It’s not a knot but more of a little patch of tight, contracted muscle. The smallest unit of the muscle, called the sarcomere, gets extremely contracted and can actually shorten. This prevents the full lengthening of the muscle, weakens the muscle, and causes an array of stimulated responses. When this happens the muscle ends up releasing excess molecules and can cut off it’s own blood supply (ischemia). The tissue around myofascial trigger points is quite toxic and acidic, filled with irritated molecules for inflammation. Yikes! No wonder they hurt.
So why does putting pressure on the knot hurt so good?
We’re not sure! It may be a sensory adaptation, or relaxation/disruption of the tight, angry, contracted sarcomeres. Trigger point release helps unlock the physiologically contracted mechanism of the sarcomere, and hopefully, provide relief. When this is relaxed, it is easier and more likely to respond to appropriate correction/strengthening to prevent further overuse.
Ask your W&N Physical Therapist to learn more about your very own myofascial trigger points and ways to alleviate them!