We’ve all had those moments: you wake up with a stiff neck, feel a hard mass in your shoulder while working at your desk, or get a cramp in your leg that lingers for days. These nagging muscle aches can impact the quality of your day and even lead to more serious injuries if not addressed properly. Fortunately, there are simple and cheap ways to attack these (literal) pains in the neck .
Let’s start with the basics – what is a muscle “knot”?
Think about a fast-moving river. Suddenly, a storm hits, and a pile of debris starts to gather, causing disruption to the flow. The best way to restore normal river flow is to use force to break up that pile of debris and send it on its way.
“Knots” are formed when our muscle fibers and surrounding tissues are in a constant state of contraction. This can result from a “storm” of our own –– exertion, dehydration, emotional stress, or poor posture––leaving fibers no longer running smoothly in their typical direction. Applying force with different massage techniques can help “untie the knot” –– or break up that “pile of debris.”
How do I untie the knot?
Self-Myofascial Release (SMFR) is a technique that consists of applying moderate sustained pressure to tense areas so the spasm or “knot” will release and relax.
In addition to reducing muscle tension and soreness, SMFR has been shown to improve overall flexibility, balance, and blood flow; reduce inflammation and chronic pain; and restore muscle and joint function.
SMFR is typically performed using foam rollers, massage balls , and pressure point canes. Read on to learn more about these tools and how to use them!
(Disclaimer: It is best to learn the techniques of SMFR from a licensed therapist or trainer to attain the greatest results and reduce the risk of injury. Please use caution when attempting these methods and cease any activity that causes significant pain or discomfort.)
Why not start with the cheapest option? Go find a tennis, lacrosse, softball, baseball or golf ball, and give it a whirl!
Find some space against a wall or sit on the floor. Place the ball in the area of tension or discomfort and gently apply pressure. If laying on the ground, let your body weight slowly sink into the ball. Once you find the knot, move smoothly back and forth over the area, applying continuous pressure. Hold for 30-60 seconds or until you feel the muscle spasm release.
Some common areas for massage ball use include the shoulders, upper and lower back, the glutes, hamstrings, and arches of the feet.
The same method applies to foam rollers. Find the area of tension and gently roll over the area with sustained, controlled pressure. Foam rollers are most often used for lower extremity SMFR, as well as the back. Foam rollers come in different sizes and are often available at fitness centers.
Pressure Point Canes
Pressure point canes or massagers can also be used for SMFR. These are most helpful in hard-to-reach or more sensitive spots in the upper back and shoulders, neck, and glutes. This tool requires you more sustained pressure and less “rolling.” Thera Cane® and similar products are widely used in rehab environments. I never leave for a road trip without my massage cane!
The knot is untied, now what?
Sometimes, SMFR can cause residual short-term soreness. Applying ice to the area for 20 minutes can help reduce muscle spasm, inflammation, and associated pain.
The next step is considering what prompted your “storm.” Be mindful of your posture, drink plenty of water, practice healthy eating habits, exercise regularly (don’t forget that strength training!), and STRETCH! Take time to evaluate your workstation or bed––perhaps it’s time for a new pillow, mattress, or office chair.
Do not hesitate to discuss your frequent aches and pains with your doctor. At EHE, our physicians are specialized in preventive health. They can help you pinpoint problem areas and develop strategies to achieve your goals.