Midterm examinations are over. However, your shoulders absent-mindedly are still tense, and what you receive for trying to relax them is pain. You may have is myofascial trigger points, also known as muscle knots.
Muscle knots are a common ailment in which a muscle does not relax on its own. Muscles are always either in active or passive states and when a muscle is in an active state for a prolonged period of time, it will spasm.
Scientists have yet to determine why knots form. However more research is needed to validate various theories about why they form and how to prevent them.
According to Jan Kodat, assistant professor of kinesiology, the term ‘muscle knot’ is generic for several different ailments.
“Sometimes, you can pull a muscle, and it’ll knot up to protect itself, so it actually spasms and gets tight,” Kodat said. “It can be anything from lifting something that was too heavy or with bad posture to reaching out for things consistently and causing the muscle to get tired.”
The saying “sit up straight” is not just for etiquette but for the health benefits it entails as well. Kodat believes that bad posture contributes to muscle spasms.
“They’re bent over a computer and books, they’re writing, they’re reading, they’re driving, they’re texting – these muscles across the back tend to get stretched and weak and sometimes they ‘knot’ up in that way,” Kodat said.
Stress, depending on the person, can affect the muscles though it is not directly related to knot formation.
“Stress is more individualized. It’s not a given that if you’re super stressed you’re going to get a muscle spasm or if you have one it’s going to make it worse,” Kodat said.
If students have muscle spasms and ignore them, they are at risk for pain in the stretched muscle or in surrounding muscles. As a result, the knot can tighten further and can become more difficult to loosen and even cause headaches.
There is no solely effective method of removing knots. However, there are methods that can help relieve the tension such as massage therapy which is a common but painful treatment that helps loosen knots. Applying hot and cold packs, as well as electrical stimulation and ultrasound treatments, have also shown to be helpful, though how heat and ice affect each student varies. While ice may ease new spasms, tighter muscles may benefit more from heat.
“The best way to prevent them is to stay well hydrated, keep electrolyte levels balanced (consume enough salt prior to activity-induced perspiration) and maintain adequate muscular flexibility,” David Pearson, professor of kinesiology, said.
Students can also lie down with tennis balls, foam rollers or frozen water bottles under the knots to help loosen knots.