Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where Do Knots Come From?

Being in the massage field for the last ten years I have come across several different theories on this problem that plagues many of us. On some level all of them are in part true. Knots or, as massage therapists refer to them, trigger points can be very painful and debilitating to some individuals. Not only do they reflect pain to many parts of the body, they can also trap nerves which causes numbness and tingling in the limbs and hips.

The best way I've heard it explained was by my trainer, G. Simpson at 24 hour fitness. Your muscle fibers, much like a grain of wood, run in one direction. Knots or trigger points form when those fibers begin to crisscross. Muscle fibers can twist and get crisscrossed for many different reasons. Some say knots are a part of the muscle in continual spasm and that spasm leads to a small patch being constricted. I believe a muscle spasm is one of the causes in muscle fibers crisscrossing.

Another theory I've heard is it's a part of the muscle that has been calcified. I don't believe the muscle itself becomes calcified but where the muscle is bunching up into trigger points happens to form a dam that traps calcium deposis, as well as, other toxins. Surgery research has revealed these knots contain a higher than normal quantity of protein as well. The muscle is where protein gets stored but just as the dam effect traps calcium and other deposits it also traps more protein.

So the million dollar question is, what starts the chain of events? Can we have a spot light and a drum roll please? The answer is poor body mechanics. I wish I could tell you it's a more exotic cause but it's just plain and simple the way we carry ourselves everyday. (Sometimes it can be injuries.) But almost all of us are leaning over something all day at work, or looking down at a computer screen, holding a phone to our ear all the time, sleeping in awkward positions. Furthermore, when some people get stressed, frustrated, mad, whatever you want to call it, they tend to bunch up their shoulders and hold them up around their ears.

Which leads to the next million dollar question, what can be done to fix the problem? The number one best thing would be to focus on prevention. Adjust your equipment so it's easier on the body, raise the computer screen or lower the office chair so you can look more straight on. Get a head set for your phone and a body pillow to sleep with at night. Concentrate on holding your head back over your shoulders when you walk and sit so your neck muscles don't get strained from the weight of your head pulling on them.

After the problem exist what should you do? The best thing I recommend is to get massages. As massage therapist there are two main ways we treat this problem. We first go in and do cross fiber fiction on the knots to start breaking up the deposits and then second, we do long Swedish strokes. The long strokes have two functions as well. One is to lengthen the muscle again. With all it's twisting and bunching, the muscle itself has become shorter, pulling at it's attachments and causing pain where the muscle attaches to the bone. Two, the long strokes help to get the muscle fibers running in the same direction again.

Another thing that can be done in between massages or for people who can't get massages is foam rolling. You can get a foam roll at any back, massage or fitness store. I just use the ones at my gym. It works best on calve and hamstrings but if you're creative enough you can find a way to foam roll anything. Just make sure to use your body weight for pressure and to hold the point until the muscle tension feels to be letting up. A tennis ball can also be used for around the shoulder blade. Just hold the ball in between your back and the wall or floor and then roll it over the knots. There are also many trigger point tools out there so individuals can do cross fiber friction on there own knots. So far I have not found a tool I like because it's just not the same as a hand or knuckle. These tools are also very hard to use without cramping up your hands and forearms.

This problem is as frustrating for me as it is for my clients. I can help for that week but if the cause of the situation is not changed and we don't become aware of how we hold our bodies throughout the day then week after week the problem will be back. But I and many other therapists like me, will continue to struggle against the problem of trigger points.

Allison Mitchell has been a massage therapist in Salt Lake City for ten years and owns a business called Magic Massage. She has managed to build a busy practice in that time and just recently decided to share her knowledge in the area of massage.

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