Unknotting the Muscle
We often speak about how a massage will break down the muscle knots in your body, but what exactly is a muscle knot?
Muscle Knots aka Trigger Points
There are no actual knots involved, of course; the clinical term for muscle knots is myofascial trigger points. A trigger point is a small patch of tightly contracted muscle that have gone into an isolated muscle spasm either due to injury, overuse or a sedentary lifestyle, and then remain stuck in that tense state. That small patch of knotted muscle cuts off its own blood supply, which irritates it even more.
Simply put, a muscle knot is your muscle remaining flexed and refusing to relax, which is why it hurts even after you’ve stopped your strenuous activities. A collection of too many nasty trigger points or muscle knots is called myofascial pain syndrome.
It sounds minor but individual trigger points and myofascial pain syndrome can cause a shocking amount of discomfort.
Trigger Points – The Triple Threat
Almost everyone would complain of aches and pain at one point in their lives, and trigger points seem to be a common factor in a majority of these cases. There are three simple reasons why they are a common medical complaint.
They cause direct pain.
Trigger points are an example of how our muscle tissues malfunction. Our muscle tissues are more powerful and biologically complex than we realise, and like any finely-tuned machine, it is bound to break down at some point.
They complicate injuries.
Trigger points are typically caused by the pain of the injury itself, followed by exhaustion. Your muscle starts working harder to work around the injury – contracting frequently and in unfamiliar new patterns as you try to go about your usual day. These awkward contortions, limping and squirming forces unfamiliar and often intense muscle activity. The exhaustion it causes probably drives trigger point formation or make any trigger points that were already there much worse.
They mimic other pain sensations.
Stimulated trigger points can cause pain that mimics many other common diagnosis and health problems. When you have a leg injury and start to rest with your weight more on one side than the other, this causes trigger points to develop in the gluteus minimus, causing pain in the buttocks, thigh and calf. Trigger points in the posterior cervical muscles are also always involved in severe headaches such as migraines, tension headaches and post-traumatic headaches.
A Weird Ache? Could be a Trigger Point.
On top of the usual minor aches and pains, trigger points often cause unusual symptoms in strange locations. For example, many diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome are actually experiencing pain caused by the subscapularis, a muscle in their armpit. This phenomenon of pain spreading from a trigger point to another section is called referred pain.
Sciatica, where you feel shooting pain in the buttocks and legs, is often caused by pain in the piriformis (the muscle that starts at the lower spine and connects to the top of each thighbone) and other glueteal muscles, and not actually by irritation of the sciatic nerve. It is common for other trigger points to be mistaken for a nerve problem.
Trigger points around your jaw, face, head and neck also cause multiple referred pain issues. These include earaches and toothaches, sinusitis and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
A sore throat or a lump in the throat is often caused or aggravated by trigger points anywhere around the throat.
The trigger points in the pectoralis major muscle (more commonly known as the pecs) can also produce symptoms that are nearly identical to pain associated with a heart attack. Referred pain from these trigger points are felt in the chest, front of shoulder, down the inside of the arm and along the inside of the elbow.
Never underestimate a trigger point – they can produce far worse pain than your typical straightforward injuries. There are times when untreated trigger points can last forever, even when the injury has healed! Check with your physiotherapist today if you’ve been facing a pain in your neck or back that hasn’t gone away.