How To Identify Your Muscle Knots (And Where To Find Them)

This article was originally posted on airawear.com.

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In case you didn?t already know, your body is a wonderful map filled with unique landmarks.

And each landmark is like a little button that can create different sensations. Some good, some bad, some just plain weird.

But today, we?ll be focusing on some landmarks that simply make you moan and groan. Irritable and moody. Or in rare instances, writhe and scream.

These are your literal pain points. What we call muscle knots or trigger points.

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Being able to locate and press them may not get rid of back ache for life. But it does one thing you need most in the moment you feel pain.

It gives you relief.

By the end of this post, you?d be able to:

  • Identify and release muscle knots that you?ve never realized were affecting your physical well-being
  • Get rid of those annoying aches when you finally loosen those tight muscle knots
  • Know the most convenient methods to deal with shoulder aches and strains? Whether you?re in the middle of your meetings, work, or even after driving home
  • Relish the time you have during breaks just by adding a little touch of relief (heh)

As with massaging yourself or trying anything new, always err on the side of being gentle at first. And if your back or body pain persists, it?s a good sign to go see a doctor instead.

Ready?

Knock yourself out (not literally) when you press these points.

What is a muscle knot and how does it feel like?

Nobody truly knows what a muscle knot is or how it comes about.

But for those of us who have it, it makes our day a little more miserable. A muscle knot can be constantly pounding our body with an aching sensation.

Sometimes, after staring at a computer or phone screen for too long? Out of pure instinct, you may have rubbed your sore neck or shoulder muscles. You feel a solid bump around the area you rubbed. That?s probably a muscle knot you felt.

A muscle knot is quite a common phenomenon really. You may even have heard physiotherapists or massage therapists mention them.

Well it doesn?t mean your muscles literally get twisted and tied up. That?d be scary. And way more painful in reality.

In essence, your muscle knots are the result of muscle fibres being torn and repaired? But these fibres remain clenched and tight, which in turn leads to sensitivity and irritation.

(Wanna go in depth? Check out this Reddit post.)

Sometimes they don?t feel any different from your normal muscles when you press over them. But often they feel like relatively hard lumps.

In either case, they are where the pain and/or tightness is.

Why is a muscle knot problematic for me?

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Claire Davies describes how trigger points or muscle knots can contribute to the kinds of pain we feel everyday:

?Trigger points are known to cause headaches, neck and jaw pain, low back pain, the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, and many kinds of joint pain mistakenly ascribed to arthritis, tendinitis, tendinosis, bursitis, or ligament injury.

On top of that, it can affect the mental as well:

?And because trigger points can be responsible for long-term pain and disability that seem to have no means of relief, they can contribute to depression.

Muscle knots can also lead to reduced mobility in the long run ? due to muscle stiffness. And the pain or soreness experienced may linger on for a long time unless some intervention is taken (e.g. massage, stretching, fitness-related activities).

You can now see leaving your trigger points alone can have negative impact across various aspects in your life.

And the power to restore some good in your life is actually in your hands. Specifically, your knuckles and fingertips.

Where to find your muscle knots

The following will only consider trigger points that are accessible AND easy-to-press by most people. Certain body parts that can contribute to back ache aren?t easily released without the aid of any tool.

For instance, if you?re flexible enough, you may be able to reach your middle back but it doesn?t mean you can exert enough pressure on that spot. Practically speaking, knots in inaccessible areas are best pressed with a tennis ball between you and a wall/chair.

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Meanwhile, this post is meant to help you release some knots anytime you want. Whether you?re in the office, or stopped behind the wheel at a traffic light?

You want to be able to relieve some tension on the spot.

(Geddit?)

For Neck Pain or Stiff Neck

Trigger Point #1: Levator Scapulae (Top and Middle Back of Neck)

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You probably want to press this if:

Your neck feels like you?re wearing the Batman cowl. In other words, you can?t turn your head because your neck hurts.

Also, if your sling bag/handbag has been really heavy, your neck will probably be sore on the carrying side. And this trigger point may be exacerbating the pain.

How to identify this point:

This point is at the base of your neck. Specifically, it?s at the ?back of the hump? of your trapezius. How do I mean?

Imagine facing a mirror now. This trigger point won?t be visible. You have to use your fingers to reach slightly behind your neck. As this is quite a deep muscle (not easily accessed by pinching), you can dig in to feel it using your four fingers.

You may also want to check out:

  • Trigger Point Therapist

Trigger Point #2: Levator Scapulae (In Between Shoulder Blades)

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You probably want to press this if:

You either have hind shoulder pain (e.g. you can?t really raise your arm up or out) or your neck feels stiff as a plank. Or maybe you have the same I-can?t-turn-my-neck-?cause-I?m-Batman problem mentioned above.

How to identify this point:

This is another easy-to-identify point because of its close proximity to the shoulder blade bone.

You can roughly identify your shoulder blade structure with your opposite hand. Feel for the bony corner that is laterally closest to the spine. If you trace it upward, the bone should start moving further away from your spine and closer to your shoulder joint.

But stay at the ?corner? we just spotted. From there?

Shift your hand slightly upward. Using 2 fingers, knead and rotate around the muscle knot.

You may also want to check out:

  • Painotopia
  • Physio-pedia

Trigger Point #3: Upper Trapezius (Back of Neck)

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You probably want to press this if:

You have BOTH a neck ache and a headache. This is a trigger point that often accompanies tense necks from slumping in front of the screen or a book.

How to identify this point:

Press the two dents at the base of your skull.

If you?re not sure how to locate them, read the rest of this segment.

Do you know where the ?ball of your neck? is? Trace upward from the ?ball? until you hit the base of your skull. You can identify the base of your skull simply by looking upward and finding out where the fold of the neck back is.

Toward the left and right of your skull base, there are two vertical bands of muscle (one on each side). Outside the two bands, there?s a dent on each side. Voila, you?ve reached your destination.

You may also want to check out:

  • HBH Coaching

Trigger Point #4: Upper Trapezius (Midsection of Sides and Back of Neck)

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You probably want to press this if:

The sides of your neck have that groaning ache that gets even more sore when you stretch it. It?s as if you did a thousand crunches and your neck is an unintended victim of your physical regime.

Also, you may find it useful to press this point if you have a stiff neck. For instance, you slept too long in the wrong position. Or you over-exerted your neck during sports.

How to identify this point:

It isn?t a deep muscle tissue, so getting to the point is relatively easy.

From the back of your ears, bring your fingertips to the *hind* midsection of your neck.

If you aren?t sure, try tracing from another start point. Begin by dragging your fingers up the direction of your trapezius from the base of your neck.

You can either press in to release the trigger point, if not you can pinch it since it?s a surface muscle. Be careful not to dig in too deep at the start, since your neck is full of sensitive arteries and veins.

You may also want to check out:

  • Stress Free Mama
  • Trigger Point Therapist

For Shoulder and Upper Back Aches

Trigger Point #5: Upper Trapezius (Where Your Neck And Shoulder Connect)

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You probably want to press this if:

Your neck is feeling tense AND/OR aching. The causes for this trigger point are vast and varied. And it seems almost everybody has them.

It may also be the origin of referred pain in the jaw (mandibles), temples, and even eye area.

How to identify this point:

Draw a straight line down from the bottom of your ears with your fingers. You will hit the base of your neck and the ?top? of your shoulders (visually speaking).

This trigger point is closer to your posterior. In other words, you can see the muscle from the mirror!

There are two ways of dealing with this pain. You can either press and knead the point with your front knuckles or fingertips. If not, you can pinch the muscle and pull it outward.

You may also want to check out:

  • Intentional Living
  • Life After Pain

Trigger Point #6: Infraspinatus (Outer Edge of Shoulder Blade)

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You probably want to press this if:

You feel like the rotation of your arm (on the same side as your shoulder blade) is restricted. For instance, you feel a strain when you try to take off your jacket or unhook your bra. It could even be as extreme as feeling pain while brushing teeth.

And these pains could be worsened or even caused by hours of raising your arms up (e.g. driving, racquet sports).

How to identify this point:

The name ?infraspinatus? means below the spine. But it?s not literally at the tail end of the spine.

Trace down (with your opposite arm) and find the shoulder blade bone. If you?re limited by your flexibility, place your opposite arm and head on a table.

From there, feel for the outside of the shoulder blade bone (on the longitudinal part of it). Press as desired.

You may also want to check out:

  • Athletes Treating Athletes
  • The Pressure Positive Co.

Trigger Point #7: Infraspinatus (Under the Acromlon ? Horizontal Boney Part Of Your Shoulder Blade)

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You probably want to press this if:

You feel fatigue and restriction in your upper arm (or even all the way down to your palms). As with the above trigger point, you may encounter difficulty doing activities where your upper arm and shoulders are raised.

How to identify this point:

Similar to the trigger point above, locate your shoulder blade bone with the fingertips of your opposite hand. This time, find the lateral or horizontal part of the shoulder blade bone.

Feel for the area underneath the bone (it should be relatively ?flat? in terms of muscle composition).

This trigger point is slightly more accessible than the one before. But if you?re limited by flexibility, try pushing your opposite shoulder and head against the table while you?re seated. You should be leaning forward in this position. This method will give you extra reach with your opposite arm.

You may also want to check out:

  • Julstro
  • The Pressure Positive Co.

Trigger Point #8: Edge of Middle Trapezius (Just Above Deltoids)

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You probably want to press this if:

You?ve been slouching while seated or adopting the turtle-neck position (head sticks out from rather than align with spine). This places unnecessary burden on your trapezius as a whole ? even if it?s a large and strong muscle group in your body.

If you have rounded shoulders, your trapezius is also constantly being pulled and exerted on. This results in a weakened trapezius.

(Side note: rounded shoulders usually indicate a tight chest or pectoral muscles too)

How to identify this point:

This is the outermost area of your trapezius muscle group. You can find it between the outer end of your collar bone and the lateral part of your shoulder blade bone. It?s pretty close to your shoulder joint.

All you need to do is to dig in with 2 to 3 fingers and knead horizontally.

You may also want to check out:

  • Myofascial Therapy
  • Myofascial Pain Solutions
  • Free Bodied

Trigger Point #9: Front and Back of Deltoid

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You probably want to press this if:

You directly feel pain in your deltoids (sounds commonsensical but realize that many trigger points usually help to deal with pain that is felt elsewhere in the body).

You?ve overworked your shoulders in sports, or you carry heavy load at work:

  • Patients if you?re a nurse
  • Heavy tools if you?re in construction
  • Goods if you?re in the moving industry or retail.

How to identify this point:

Your deltoid is easily identifiable even if you simply look into a mirror. The trick is knowing where exactly your deltoid trigger points are.

For the front of your deltoid, feel your muscles using your other hand. Begin from the edge of your collar bone/shoulder joint. You should feel two particular areas giving off that ?sweet? ache:

  1. At the sunken area between your pectorial (chest muscles) and the top of your upper arm
  2. In the middle area of your front deltoid. This is probably where the deltoid is most ?convex? in shape, where it protrudes out most before curving in to connect with your biceps.

For the back of your deltoid, do the same finger-feeling method. The trigger point lies between the top to the middle of the muscle group.

You may also want to check out:

  • The Wellness Digest
  • The ideal height for using the computer (if you suspect your workplace ergonomics is aggravating your pain here).
  • Niel Asher

Trigger Point #10: Middle of Deltoid

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You probably want to press this if:

You?ve also been overworking your arms and lifting it up rather often. The conditions are pretty similar to the front and back deltoid aches above.

How to identify this point:

The majority of deltoid trigger points would be found in the middle. You can simply press along the (laterally) middle stringy deltoid muscles.

Rub it vertically and you can feel the ache mostly everywhere.

You may also want to check out:

  • TriggerPoints.net
  • Art of Manliness
  • Ignore Limits

For Lower Back Aches

Trigger Point #11: Quadratus Lumborum (Above Elbow Level)

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You probably want to press this if:

Your middle and lower back are aching, especially in the muscular areas. It can even occur in the hips and buttocks area.

The back aches are usually made worse or caused by standing or sitting a lot. Think back to the last time you struggled to arch and stretch your middle back! You were probably working hard or physically stationary for too long.

Yes, even working hard can lead to back aches. Simply because you tense up your whole body while feeling stressed.

How to identify this point:

If you can feel for the bottom of your rib cage, then you?ve got the right horizontal location for the QL muscles. The QL is around the base of the ribs, near the spine (on the left and right).

In order to reach for these muscles ? not to mention press in deep? You may want to anchor your opposite elbow against a surface. A good example would be the back support of your chair, so you may press this muscle knot while sitting down.

While your opposite elbow is anchored, form a fist with your massaging hand.

Place your knuckles against your middle back, and feel for the QL on the other side. Your forearm should be parallel to the ground when bent and pressing in this position.

Pro-tip: Relax your middle back if you can. Instead of sitting up straight and using your core muscles,lean against your anchored arm. When the muscle group is relaxed, you have an easier time to press into the muscle knot. Otherwise, it will just be a solid wall you?re pressing against.

You may also want to check out:

  • Pain Science
  • Ground Up Strength

Trigger Point #12: Piriformis (Sides of the Bottom of Your Spine)

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You probably want to press this if:

There?s a deep ache in your hip. You may even feel pain that radiates to your hamstrings.

You probably could have gotten this ache from sitting down too much ? have you been driving for long? Do you feel like you have difficulty rotating your legs inward or crossing them?

Perhaps you play sports where you need to twist your hip a lot. And suddenly too.

That?s because the piriformis is one muscle which helps to rotate your legs, simply speaking.

While buttock muscles are complex and hard to distinguish, pressing one spot usually helps to relieve pain in surrounding trigger points too. Furthermore, other sorts of pain in your rear is likely to involve the piriformis.

(Side note: women are 6x more likely than men to have muscle knot problems in the piriformis.)

How to identify this point:

Do you know where your sacrum is? That?s the base of the spine, just below your hip bone level.

Try pressing in on the fleshy part of your buttocks, which are next to your sacrum and beneath your hip bones.

Alternatively, locate your piriformis by extending your thighs sideways and outwards. The fleshy part will be contracted and tight when you do this. Place your fingertips over this area and press in when you?ve relaxed your leg muscles.

You may also want to check out:

  • Trigger Point Relief
  • Live Strong

What?s Next For Me

Now you know where some easily accessible trigger points are. But everybody?s pain is different. What works for you may not work as well on your friend, and vice versa.

So go on, try it and discover for yourself!

You may feel a good kind of sore afterwards. It?s as if your muscles still ache from the pressing but they are much more relaxed than before.

Furthermore, these trigger points are relevant when it comes to a lot of people who work in an office environment. Or if they?ve been driving for the whole day.

Neat, isn?t it?

This article was originally posted on airawear.com.

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