< Blog < Stay Fit < Fitness Basics < What Does A Muscle Knot Feel Like And What to Do If You Have One?

What Does A Muscle Knot Feel Like And What to Do If You Have One?

7 min read
a man is standing with his back with red dots on his back illustrating muscle knots, what does a muscle knot feel like
Natasha Caleel post Reviewer Natasha Caleel post Reviewer
Verified by Natasha Caleel
MS in Occupational Therapy, BS in Kinesiology, Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Coach

Table of Contents

If you’ve experienced localized pain or tenderness in a muscle, you might be Googling — what does a muscle knot feel like? 

These tender spots are pretty common and often unharmful. You don’t need to clock up serious hours in the gym to experience muscle knots either, anyone can get them, and they can range from mildly uncomfortable to pretty painful.

Below, we explain how to determine if you have a  muscle knot and differentiate between knots and your average tired, tight, and overworked muscles. We also dig into how you can soothe and relieve them and when you should be concerned.

What is a Muscle Knot?

Muscle knots are painful, tight, or sore spots in a muscle that you can generally pinpoint with your fingers.

What is a muscle knot made of? Muscle knots are a bundle of tight muscle fibers that are spasmed and unable to relax. These annoying knots can develop anywhere in the body but are often experienced in your legs (hamstrings or calves), back, and neck. 

These are actually spots in muscle or fascial tissue (connective tissue) that were irritated by constant repetitive motion. They are also known as myofascial trigger points that can present as active pain or could be latent if you only notice it when pressing on a specific area of a muscle. [1]

The most common causes are:

  • Repetitive movements — in daily life or during exercise. They can be more common in athletes who are training specific muscles repeatedly. 
  • Long periods of inactivity, lack of exercise, and a sedentary lifestyle
  • Heavy lifting 
  • Stress and emotional tension
  • Injuries like tears, breaks, or strains
  • Poor posture 

Muscle knots typically aren’t usually dangerous, although they could indicate an undiagnosed pain medical condition if they persist over time rather than a few days or weeks. [1]

We’ve covered what a muscle knot looks like, but what does it feel like?

What Does A Muscle Knot Feel Like?

As mentioned, knots present in different ways and can be acute — persistently painful — or latent, which means you only feel pain when you press the affected area. 

Muscle knots can be characterized as localized pain, throbbing, weakness, and tenderness in specific muscles, relating to trigger points that feel like small bumps in the muscle. This can also be related to myofascial pain syndrome. [2]

To identify the muscle knot, look for the above when you touch the area, alongside pain, which is just muscle fibers gathered and sitting in contraction, unable to release. 

What Do Shoulder Knots Feel Like?

If the muscles around your scapulae are affected, you could feel pain around the upper back, neck, and shoulder blades. Notable areas include the rotator cuff muscles (the muscles that support and stabilize shoulder movement) and the levator scapulae, which supports scapula movement and rotation. 

What Does A Knot In Your Neck Feel Like?

The neck muscles, leading from the shoulders to the bottom of the skull, may be tight and contracted. This can cause pain along the sides of your neck, upper back, or tops of the shoulders. In this case, the muscles responsible for rotating and flexing your head are affected and could feel tight with movement.

What Do Knots in Your Back Feel Like?

Several muscles could be affected if you experience back pain or tightness, including the large, triangular trapezius muscle of the upper back, the upper, middle, and lower traps and the rhomboids, which are deeper back muscles that help pull your shoulder blades back and down. 

What Can You Do With a Muscle Knot?

If you have a muscle knot, you can find relief with these tips and tricks that range from self-help for sore muscles to professional interventions.

Stretching And Strength Training

When the muscle fibers stay contracted, blood flow is restricted to the area. [3] That means the muscles aren’t getting the oxygen they need, and muscle byproducts, such as lactic acid, could build up instead. Left untreated, it could cause pain and irritation.

You can immediately relieve muscle knots and tension by doing gentle stretching and mobility exercises.

However, regular exercise to build strength and increase range of motion can be helpful to prevent them from occurring again in the future. This is especially important for the more unstable joints, like the shoulders so other muscles do not end up getting overworked trying to help stabilize the shoulder girdle.

If you fancy throwing heavy weights around during strength training, learn how to warm up before lifting weights.

Hot And Cold Therapy

Heat therapy may help warm and relax muscles, while ice is better for inflamed or swollen areas. [4] Heat and cold therapy can help release muscle knots and promote better blood flow. For example, you could take a bath, use a hot water bottle, or use a warming muscle rub. 

Does a sauna spring to mind? We cover using a sauna before or after your workout here. 


Self-massage, massage guns, or a professional massage are all great options depending on which is available.

Myofascial release is a popular way to access trigger points and drill down on knots using a firm foam roller or trigger ball (a small hard ball like a golf or lacrosse ball).

If you feel confident performing self-massage, focus on small circling motions and gently massage muscle knots until you feel a release. [5] [6] [7] You can also try firmly pressing down on the knot with your fingertips and holding this tension until you feel the muscle release. During foam rolling, focus on rolling over a muscle knot and the surrounding area slowly and firmly. 

Physical Therapy

If none of the above work, a skilled practitioner might locate the problem and teach you toward exercises and techniques to use at home. Some medical professionals who help patients decrease pain related to muscle knots include; physiotherapists, chiropractors, sports massage therapists, and therapists qualified in dry needling or acupuncture.

What Does It Feel Like When A Muscle Knot Releases?

Releasing a muscle knot will likely be painful, but as it releases, you should feel instant pain relief and relaxation in the area as blood flow returns.

Some mobility should also return, and the knot itself should relax, although it might feel tender. 

When to See a Doctor

If muscle knots don’t ease after a massage or hot and cold therapy and symptoms persist, seek medical advice from your physician to identify an appropriate care plan. Symptoms include:

  • Chronic pain that lasts beyond several weeks
  • Deep muscle pain that spreads
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • A persistent cough, cold, flu, or swelling alongside pain. 

Wrapping Up

If you’re experiencing muscle knots and tension, fear not, we’ve got you covered.

  • Muscle knots are caused by tightening and contracted muscle fibers within a muscle group
  • They can occur from overuse, repetitive motion, prolonged sitting, poor posture, and sedentary lifestyles
  • Knots can cause localized pain, throbbing, weakness, and tenderness in specific muscles
  • They are known as ‘trigger points’ that feel like small bumps, nodules, or knots in the muscles that you can feel with your fingers
  • You can relieve muscle knots and sore muscles with gentle stretching, exercise, massage, hot and cold therapy, and physical therapy, to name a few
  • For more chronic cases or persistent pain, seek medical attention.  

Remember that muscles surrounding the affected area might work harder over time, which could lead to trigger points elsewhere. Pain can shift as other muscles take on the strain, and referred pain occurs when the trigger point pain travels to a nearby area. Try to treat your body holistically, focusing on prevention by treating the entire body and moving regularly where possible!

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

We recommend reading