If you’re listening to today’s A Moment of Science, you might be sitting in your car. Or slouching at your desk. Or hunched over your phone. Take a minute to think: are you comfortable?
Maybe you are, but maybe you’ve got an aching in your back, a tightness in your neck. If you reach around and prod your shoulder blades, will you find a spot of sensitive soreness?
If you did, that’s probably a muscle knot. Ouch! Muscles aren’t shoelaces—they can’t actually get tied into knots or loops. Instead, a knot forms thanks to overexcited muscle tissue. The tissue becomes tight and painful, resulting in a tender lump under the skin.
Knots tend to come from overuse. If you live a sedentary life, sitting all day with little movement, you’re probably straining your back. But let’s say you’re listening to A Moment of Science right now at the gym, or on your daily jog, or during a brand-new yoga routine. Take a moment to stretch and poke your lower legs, or upper back. Do you find a muscle knot lurking?
If you do the same exercise over and over, that can cause knots. However, new movement—like taking up aerobics—can also stress muscles not used to the exertion.
An overused or damaged muscle inflames the thin connective tissue that surrounds it. Unable to relax properly, the knot—also called a myofascial trigger point—irritates nearby nerves, especially when prodded.
Don’t tie yourself in knots worrying, though. Stay hydrated, get up from your chair periodically to move around, and keep your workout routine varied. These simple steps can help you avoid a knotty problem.