Posted by bobby
What is a knot?
The term knot is a great description of what is happening at the level of the muscle fibers. Muscle fibers should be nicely organized and in their proper length in order to function the way we want them too. When a muscle gets a knot, the fibers have become taut and curled up into a ball from being over stretched (either from acute or chronic injury to the muscle). The muscle may even be in spasm if it is being over worked. Sometimes this knot is not painful, but it still affects the way the muscle works. However, most of the time the knots are painful and can also refer pain to other areas of the body. Usually if the knot is painful, it is located near a trigger point in the body or somehow affecting the surrounding nerves.
Visual of what is happening to the muscle fiber
Step 1: get the taut muscle to relax and realign the muscle fibers
There are a ton of techniques out there that attempt to get rid of knots, but the main goal of all of them is to relax the muscle so that the fibers can be re-aligned and work properly again. Some of the techniques include massage, acupuncture, ART, myofascial release, etc. These can be performed by physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, etc. OR….as a crossfitter you are taught to work on these balled up muscles with lacrosse ball. This is great because the more you can get to know your body and help maintain it independently, the better off you will be. Other tools that are helpful include the foam roll, massage roller stick or anything you can use to dig into the muscle (nothing sharp please). And of course exchanging massages with friends/significant others is always a great way to tackle the knots.
I think where people struggle while trying to get rid of knots is during the technique. Sometime you can get lucky and get the knot to relax by rolling out like crazy using any/all of the tools mentioned above. But if the muscle is REALLY tight and in spasm, rolling over it again and again may just irritate it even more. The goal here is to get pressure on the knot, enough to help relax the muscle but not too much to cause it to spasm and tighten even more. Sometimes the lacrosse ball is too much pressure and does not allow people to relax enough to get the muscle to relax.
Once the muscle is relaxed, the fibers don’t necessarily realign and go back into place. This is where massage can help to move the fibers back into good alignment, applying pressure into the alignment of the fibers. Since not all muscle fibers are aligned in the same direction, knowledge of muscle anatomy can be helpful here. So either look at a picture of the muscle you’re working with or go to a healthcare professional who has this background knowledge. Stretching can also be a great way to get the muscles re-aligned after the knot has relaxed, so don’t forget to stretch after using your lacrosse ball or foam roller! Again, focusing on allowing the muscle to relax into the stretch, holding for at least 30 sec (I like 2 min per stretch if I have the time).
** If scar tissue is built up from chronic injury, your muscle fibers may look like a mesh of wire because scar tissue does not lay down in the same way a healthy muscle looks. This is why rolling and massaging in different directions can help break up the scar tissue and get the muscle fibers into better alignment.
Step 2: figure out why you are getting the knots in the first place!
Sometimes the knots are not preventable, especially with some of the intense workouts being done and amount of little muscle tears going on during these workouts. This is more of the acute injury that I mentioned above, along with actual trauma to the muscle (i.e. muscle strain).
Other knots can be preventable, so why not prevent them right?. These are the knots caused by chronic injury, meaning chronic poor positioning of the joints causing muscles to become over stretched. For example, forward head posture puts the upper trap in a lengthened position where it is constantly working to hold your head up. This is a very common location for knots because a lot of people are guilty of this postural fault. Another common location is between the shoulder blades, which is usually because of poor posture with rounded shoulders. Rounded shoulders puts your rhomboids and middle trap in a lengthened position where they have to work really hard to try to keep your shoulder blades in place.
Over worked back/neck muscles from poor posture….yuck
There are other causes of knots besides poor posture, but I like these examples because it helps to drive home a main point in step 2. You can fix the problem, but it’s always important to find the source of the problem so it doesn’t come back to haunt you. If you live on your lacrosse ball and stretch out your upper trap, middle trap and rhomboids……but the knots continue to return, think about your posture! The work you are doing to relax the knots may be helping temporarily, but if you continue to return to the poor posture the muscles will tighten/spasm again. Muscles have great memory!
Take home message…
- Allow the muscle to relax……it’s not always no pain, no gain.
- Find the source of the problem (knot) and fix it.
- If you’re still having trouble getting that knot to chill out, grab a coach and we can give you some more tips!
Workout of the Day
A.) Hang Power Clean: 8-8-6
B.) 3 rounds – one min. per station, score is total reps:
- Row (calories),
- Kb swings (1.5/1),
- Walking lunges (2-count),
- Box jumps (24/20),