If I had to pick one question that I am most often asked when treating patients is, what are muscle knots? And what causes them?
And fair enough too, I would be asking some serious questions too if someone told me that I had some kind of ball of tissue within my muscle… That’s not normal right?
This excerpt by Paul Ingraham gives a good little explanation:
Does your body feel like a toxic waste dump?
It may be more literally true than you realized! Some evidence shows that a knot may be a patch of polluted tissue: a nasty little cesspool of waste metabolites. If so, it’s no wonder they hurt, and no wonder they cause so many strange sensations: it’s more like being poisoned than being injured. Back pain is the best known symptom of the common muscle knot, but they can cause an astonishing array of other aches and pains. Misdiagnosis is much more common than diagnosis.(1)
Muscle knots are very helpful. They are like signposts in our body, pointing to the areas that are overworked and struggling. If you come across a point in your muscle that is reasonably uncomfortable and causes you to grimace a little, then you know this is a spot that needs working over.
Muscle knots are localized, irritable points in skeletal muscle, not caused by any one specific event. This can basically be explained as a small permanently contracted part of a muscle. They can also act like tensioners, pulling at bones and joints via their tendons and causing all sorts of grief, including making you feel “out of place”
To add even more fuel to the fire, knots can also refer pain elsewhere, again, not where the actual knot is.
Take the Quadratus lumborum (QL) for example. This muscle in your back does a lot of good work but when irritated, can cause some confusing pain at times.
This muscle that runs down the side of your lumbar spine often refers pain into the hip and glutes, not at all where the muscle is.
So how do we get rid of muscle knots?
Heat increase blood-flow, eases pain and helps with muscle relaxation so definitely worth the effort of warming up your wheat bag!
2. Self-massage and self-myofascial release
Get a Foam Roller or massage balls into those tight areas. If you need a whole lot more guidance and self-treatment techniques, grab our New Ebook that has just released!
Normalise muscle function through good exercise with and around the troublesome area. Whether it is upper trap pain and you need to get the lower traps firing better, hamstring pain because the Gluts aren’t doing their job or because you just aren’t moving right – exercise can help address this.
Hopefully that has cleared things up a bit! Give these tips a go and feel free to check out our new Ebook that is full of helpful tips and self-treatment exercises.
Tight muscles are a real drag, slowing us down, causing injury and generally just putting you in a crappy mood. So I’m going to show you the three best exercises to loosen up your body from top to bottom – and all you need is five minutes!
1. Shoulder and neck release
One of the most popular posts on PhysioPrescription is easily this shoulder myofascial release, incredibly shared over 10000 times on Pinterest and viewed over 30000 times, it really is a go-to exercise for tight necks and shoulders. Grab a firm ball, place it under your upper traps bulk as shown on the video and bring your arm up and down, grinding out that tightness for 1-2 minutes.
2. Hip release
Glute stretches are a great loosener for tight muscles. Being one of the largest and most important muscle groups in the body – it can not be ignored! My favourite glute stretch is the sling stretch and if you do it right, it will easily become a regular for you. As shown in the pictures below, this is how it is done.
Start on your hands and knees then bring a knee up between your hands and the foot across under your body
Slide your other leg out to the back
Now lower down onto your elbows and if you are really game stretch your arms right out as shown.
To add a Lat stretch in, bring your arm (the one on the same side as your back leg) across in front of you as far as is comfortable.
Hold for 30 seconds each side
3. Hamstring release
Who hasn’t had nasty hamstrings dragging you down at one point or another? Agin, get a firm ball, sit on a firm chair and place it under your thigh. Tilt your pelvis forward or hold the front of the chair and then straighten your knee in, and then out. Repeat this ten times and then move the ball up or down your hammy. Repeat a few times and you are done.
Try one or all of these exercises out and make it a regular thing. Like, share and comment to let me know how you go.
Take 5 minutes out of your day, take the challenge and get rid of your tight muscles
The self-treatment tool I use the most, especially while on tour with teams, has got to be the Peanut. This is a handy little tool that you can use to loosen up your stiff back very effectively, and it’s not bad for doing a bit of muscle work too! The great thing it, you can make one at home and I’m going to show you how.
It is perfectly suited to giving you’re spine a good loosen up as it has a nice groove down the middle for your vertebrae to rest in while bulging out to give the muscle down either side of your spine a nice firm massage. You can move it up and down your spine slowly, meaning at each level it;
1. Loosens up the muscles and other soft tissues and
2. Mobilizes your spine at the same time.
Your thoracic spine is very key for pain-free and strong neck and shoulders and is far too often overlooked and missed. So if you have any neck, shoulder or upper back pain or a stiff back – This will be a great exercise for you to try and even better to combine with this myofascial release for tight shoulders.
So, here is how to make your own peanut to mobilize your spine at home:
What you need:
1. Two balls (Mind out of the gutter!) – I prefer to use lacrosse balls but it is up to your preference, tennis balls can do a really good job too.
2. Tape: A good, strong and durable tape it best. I use strapping tape but that’s just because I have a lot of it! – Use what you have available.
Put it all together:
Now all you need to do is strap the two balls together – the best way to do it is lengthwise around both balls at once and then around the middle before going around and around where-ever needed to hold them together. In other words, just give it a go, there is no exact way to do it!
How to use it?
It is best used in your upper back, otherwise known as your thoracic spine. Lie on your back and use you knees bent up and feet on the ground to roll it up and down. Stretching your arms over your head or across your chest can help also – experiment and give it a go, you will feel much better for it!
I will be making a video in the coming weeks to show you exactly how to give your upper back a good loosen up so stay tuned or make sure to follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
Movements that many of us take for granted at some can become harder with age,weight-gain or injury and it isn’t until we can’t do them that we really appreciate how important they are. Regular strengthening exercises and using the right technique can make the world of difference and give you the freedom you deserve.
A follower of PhysioPrescription emailed me last week asking me what he can do to help him get up off the floor and out of a chair better. Well let me tell you, you are not alone, not by a long shot and there are some easy exercises that you can do to get better at it.
It limits our lives so much when we can’t do the simple things like getting put of a chair without a lot of pain and effort, let alone getting off the ground – a lot of people actually just don’t get onto the ground for fear of getting stuck there!
Fortunately there are some great techniques and easy exercises that you can use to improve these.
We are going to run through
1; The best techniques for getting up off the ground and out of a chair
2; Exercises to strengthen the muscle that should be powering you out of a chair or off the floor.
Technique – Lets get the basics right
First of all, you need to be doing it the right way (which is the easiest and most efficient way). If you aren’t, you will just be battling away and wasting energy – potentially leading to injury.
1. Sit – To – Stand
Getting up out of a chair is something that is very, very often done wrong and there are some great tips to improve how you do it.
Lean forward at the hips
Nose over toes
Tip: This technique utilizes your body weight going froward – hence why you need to lean forward so that you nose goes over past your toes. This will start you falling forward, and then all you need to do is push up with your legs to stand up-right.
Note: remember if you are looking down, you might go down, so keep you chest up-right and focus on the top of the wall.
2. How to get up off the floor
The main thing here is to:
Roll onto your side and plant your hands on the floor
push your upper body up, so that your arms and straight
Pivot onto your knees so that your hip comes off the ground – This will get you into four-point kneeling
From there you need to bring one foot forward and plant it – from there you can drive up with that leg.
Watch the video here for a good demo of how to get both down safely and up again:
Exercises to strengthen
Strengthening exercises, when done regularly can make so many daily activities a lot easier. And I don’t mean going to the gym and throwing iron around – There are some great exercises that you can do from home!
Great functional exercise. If you are finding it difficult to stand up out of a seat, then one of the best ways to improve is practice – build up the muscle memory using the correct technique.
sitting down into a chair and standing up again is almost like doing a good squat and you can use the same technique to do it right.
Now, I know that not everyone can start doing this straight away, so I have included two levels:
Level 1: Modified sit-to-stand
Here, we make it easier by adding a pillow or cushion to the chair – This raises up the platform and means less distance for you to go up, making it easier on your legs.
Now, I want you to use the correct sit-to-stand technique I taught you above, to do this exercise. Stand up from the chair, not using your arms (your legs are only going to get stronger by working at it) and then slowly sit back down again using the same technique as when you came up (except in reverse!)
This is a great one for strengthening your posterior chain and is very functional. Remember to make it easier just place cushions, or solid books etc on the chair seat to raise the platform.
Do 3 lots of 10 – that means do ten sit-to-stands, have 1 minute break and repeat 2 more times.
Level 2: full sit-to-stand
This the same as above but without the cushion or pillow to raise it up – you are doing it right onto the chair seat.
tip: to make it harder hold, a small weight in your hands in front of you , start with 1-3kg.
Bridge – increase leg strength, glute activationa dn decrease back pain.
Your extensors (Glutes, back muscles, hamstrings etc) are what really drive you upwards and straighten you up at the hip and torso. This is a great exercise to do to get them working for YOU and the good thing is that it can be done on a firm bed or bench, as well as the ground.
Lying on your back, on the ground, firm bed or bench, bend your knees up and place your feet on the ground.
Pushing through your heels and keeping your back straight, lift your bottom off the ground
Lower down again, in control the entire time
Repeat 10 times for 3 sets.
Tip: If you get back pain doing this or hamstring spasm, try moving your feet in closer to your bottom – this will likely make it easier.
This exercise builds great control and strength through your hips.
From a standing start, take a step forward, planting your front foot
As shown in the picture, bend the back knee towards the ground, keeping your toes on the ground.
Control this all the way with your front leg – this will be doing a lot of the work
Only go down as far as you can comfortably and safely
Push off with your front leg so that you come back to standing
Repeat 5 times on each side for 3 sets.
4. Wall squats
These exercises are easier than the name lends to thinking and is great for targeting your quads (thighs), these, along with your extensors help drive you upwards, straightening out your knees.
Again, there is two levels here, so that you aren’t thrown straight in the deep end and can start where you feel comfortable:
Level one: Squat and hold
Lean against a wall with your feet at least a foot out from the wall
Slide your back down the wall, controlling this with your legs until you are about halfway down
Only go down as far as you are comfortable with!
Hold this for 5 seconds and then slide back up again
Repeat 10 times
Level two: Swiss ball wall squats
You will need a swiss ball (also called gym balls among other things) for this good little exercise
Place the ball against the wall and lean against it at the height of your low-back – make sure your feet are out from the wall
Slowly squat down, keeping the pressure against the ball
Only go down as far as is comfortable.
Return back up and repeat 10 times for 3 sets
5. Single leg standing – For balance and hip control
Stand on one leg on the floor
Don’t let your legs touch each other
Goal: hold for 1 minute
Tip: if you cannot hold this very well, you can start with one finger on a wall or bench close to you
Stand on a wobble board, dura disc or bosu ball on one leg
Aim to hold this for 1 minute or build up to it
If you cannot afford one of these you can also fold up a towel and stand on that – rolling it up firm to make it harder
As I mentioned above, these exercises are effective if they are done regularly, so make it routine and stick to it.
Aim to do these exercises at least 4 times per week and you will really notice the difference.
In the past, stretches have typically been a part of any warm up – whether getting ready for a run or a game of football. However, now there are a plethora of studies showing that static stretching impairs performance. Could all that good warming up and stretching you have been doing before the game actually be impairing muscle performance? Today I am going to delve into these studies and let you know, in easy to read terms, if stretching really does affect performance.
Static stretching has been considered an important part of a pre-game/event warm up for decades and has been ingrained in the minds of young and old as the thing to do. Static stretching involves taking a muscle to end of range (on stretch) and holding it there for 15-60 seconds and yes has been shown to be effective in improving muscle length.
So if static stretching does the job we want in improving flexibility, then how can it decrease performance?
A decent amount of research has emerged over the last 15 years showing that sustained stretching can impair performance (1, 2, 3, 4 to list a few). Static stretching of over 30 seconds has been shown to decrease, strength power, balance and reaction time, such as:
A study by Nelson et al looked at the effect of static stretching on 20m sprint times and showed that it had a significant increase in sprint times – slowing the sprinters down.
Behm et al showed that stretching for 45 seconds to the point of discomfort negatively affected both balance and reaction time.
The impairments brought on by static stretching are thought to be due to changes in the muscle compliance – it may affect the muscle’s ability to detect and respond to changes in the muscle – Basically slowing down the reflexes and responses within the muscle.
There findings are significant for many athletes – particularly those that need explosive power and only minor differences can separate you from making the podium or not. Examples of this is sprinting, weight lifting etc were, small differences and loss in power can make or break it for you.
What you should do:
Before exercise: A warm up to minimise any impairments and loss in performance should include:
Large amplitude dynamic stretching (this has NO affect on performance)
Sports specific dynamic activities/drills
5-10 minutes cool down aerobic activity (light jog)
5-10 minutes static stretching
I must mention that there are a few ways to get around this decrease in performance with static stretching. The research has shown that stretches less than 30 seconds that are low intensity have little or no effect on performance. That is pretty ideal I think as I discussed in a earlier post, you get just as good an improvement with a 30 second stretch as you do with a 60 second-plus stretch! So if you do take part in a sport that requires a high degree of static flexibility – you should use low intensity stretches (don’t push to that ow point), held for short duration 15-30 seconds.
Dynamic stretching is best before exercise as this lengthens muscles AND gets them warmed up and firing.
Static stretching after exercise to reduce muscle soreness and enhance recovery.
Hold static stretches for 15-30 seconds – and they shouldn’t hurt!