You feel a certain tightness in your calve or maybe your shoulder. You rub it and you find a knot. But what exactly is this knot, and how can you get rid of it permanently?
Training is vital before a sports event. It conditions and strengthens your muscle to perform well under certain conditions. But during training, we have encountered many athletes who suffer from muscle aches or tightness.
It is a no-brainer that massaging these aches and tight spots are important for overall flexibility, function and athletic performance. But sometimes these spots have recurring knots and no matter how much massaging or therapy is done, these knots will still be there. So, how do these knots come about and is there a way to get rid of them?
Fascia: The culprit
We have to first understand that these knots derive from dehydration of the fascia, a thin, tough, elastic type of connective tissue. Think of the fascia as a cling wrap around various structures of the body, particularly the muscles, where it provides support and protects them. This soft tissue also separates or binds muscles, organs and other soft structures of the body.
The matrix has a contractile ability, where it can contract, relax and move on its own. The entire web is an extensive sensory organ, intertwined throughout the body. So, when this matrix gets dehydrated, it can form adhesions or also known as knots, mainly from injury, repetitive micro-trauma due to musculoskeletal imbalances and chronic inflammation.
These knots can become chronic when it is a result of tissue restrictions or when the injury site is connected to the entire kinetic chain - pain can radiate away from the injury site to other areas of the body, as such.
It is important to address these points as inactivity due to pain and muscle tension, corresponds to diminished blood flow. This can over time, cause or further contribute to existing postural imbalances and limitations in movement function. Put it simply, it is a vicious cycle.
SMR: The first solution
One way to go about it is to incorporate self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques to relax the contracted muscles, improve blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulate the stretch reflex in the muscles.
However, as much as massaging the knots are important, the first thing to do is to destress mentally. The bio-psycho-social connection is extremely important and relaxing the mind will help in reconditioning the damaged or stressed soft tissue structures.
Another note to take is that SMR is not just limited to foam rolling. Tennis balls, massage balls and rolling rods are also good tools to use. Here are some pointers:
Identify your trigger point and provide a gentle sustained pressure.
As a general rule, hold on for 10 breath cycles or roughly 2 minutes, no longer than that.
Move on to slow rhythmic oscillations to break up knots and dissipate adhesions.
After that, use a smooth continuous flushing technique, slowly travelling lengthwise along the muscle.
Provide a downward pressure, much like squeezing out of a sponge, and avoid the bony areas and insertions.
Start stripping down the muscle across. This will hurt quite a bit but is the most effective in relieving the knots.
Continue for 2 minutes.
Repeat this once or twice a day especially if it is a chronic pain or adhesion.
Never jump straight cross-stripping your muscle or using an extremely hard tool like a high-density foam roller. Take is step by step, increasing in pressure. Using the wrong equipment size or density can result in a person experiencing more tension.
While SMR is easy to learn, it is not for those with chronic conditions or diseases such as skin lesions, lacerations, eczema, sunburns, advanced diabetes, osteoporosis or those undergoing chemotherapy. Do consult your doctor or seek a professional massage therapist.
It is also important to note that SMR is not the same as having a licensed manual therapist work on your body. In other words, SMR is much like the initial step to relieve knots. Some of our athletes also find that SMR techniques are not enough as they will not go past their pain threshold themselves, and seek therapists instead.
Want to know more SMR techniques or get referred to a manual therapist? Join one of our classes to know more!