When a knot is not a knot...
So you’ve just had a massage and the knots are all gone, you get up and begin to get dressed…you reach up to feel your melty shoulders and you feel a knot! What?!
I get asked about this all the time and I'd love to clear it up for you.
As a massage client, “knots” are your focus and the way you measure the results of your massage...knots are gone vs. knots are still there. It’s become universal to ask things like
“Do I have the worst knots you’ve ever seen?”
“Did you get ALL the knots OUT?”
“What is that? Is that a knot?”
First lets consider that the word “knot” doesn’t have a definition in anatomy or medical science, and it’s not a condition or diagnosis. It’s a description of a texture we feel. Anything in our tissues that feels lumpy, bumpy, or jumpy kind of gets automatically labeled as a knot, and with that label comes the assumption that we can cause it to soften and go away with force and pressure. Or that we can "dig it out" of our body.
A chronically contracted muscle, which is unintentionally squeezing, is usually what we mean when we say “knot” and these do release with massage, but sometimes the texture you’re feeling isn’t a contracted muscle at all!
If not a knot, that firm spot or lump may be:
A tendon underneath a muscle--very common in the spot above the inner corner of your shoulder blade (levator scapulae). Forcefully smashing this lump will not cause it to release or go away and could cause inflammation, swelling and tendonitis. Unlike muscles, tendons need to be firm and tight to do their job! Temporary swelling may disguise this lump, but doesn’t help at all.
A muscle that naturally has a round, thick, or bulky shape--there are different types of muscle, some are very thin and flat while others are very thick and stick out. If you haven’t studied anatomy, you might not realize how lumpy that spot is supposed to feel. Or you might be working out and causing it to increase size and tone
A muscle that is being pulled tight by your current position—if your body is positioned in a way that pulls a muscle into it’s stretched position, it will feel tight and hard, like a guitar string. This is not a contraction of the muscle, so massaging it will not cause it to release or soften. Just move the area into a new position that does not pull on it and you will feel it change. When it’s placed in it’s non-stretched position, that muscle will feel much looser and we can now check the area for true contracted spots. This is very common in the shoulder blade area when you’re lying face down or the neck when you turn the head.
The edge of a muscle—there are layers on top of layers of muscle. In places where one muscle stops, there will be a sudden “drop off” down to the next layer that feels like a lump. Think of this as the curb separating the sidewalk from the street. That is supposed to be there, no worries.
A muscle that’s being pushed until it slides—when you feel your therapist working a muscle that suddenly jumps out from under the pressure, that doesn’t mean something’s wrong. Muscles are covered with a slippery film called fascia that allows them to glide across each other without much friction. Can you imagine the constant pain and irritation if we could feel every muscle rubbing against it’s neighbors all day? Thank goodness for our slimy insides! Sometimes the “sliding away” tells us that the muscle is tight or contracted, but not always. Other times it’s just a round muscle that naturally rolls when pushed. You may have noticed this when your massage therapist works your back or the front of your thigh.
Some other body tissue--like cartilage, aponeurosis (kind of a flat sheet tendon) or a round pocket of fat (adipose). Sometimes this fat bubble is called a “back mouse” because when we massage it, it feels like a little mouse running back and forth in your lower back.
These pieces of our body cannot be softened or removed by massage. If you're using a foam roller or golf ball to massage yourself at home, don't roughly persist on an area that hasn't responded to medium pressure. As in any professional job, the customer doesn’t always understand the technical side of the process, or the risks of overdoing it, and that's ok. We love to hear your questions and give you helpful information, but please don’t assume that feeling a lumpy or hard spot after means your bodyworker hasn’t given you a quality massage.
Our bodies are always changing and adapting in response to the demands of our daily lives, and we are all different, so no one’s body is going to be 100% perfect, even after an excellent massage.
You'll feel amazing, I promise!