Muscle knots are a common ailment among athletes, but they can pop up now and then even if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. These painful bumps develop when a muscle is used repeatedly, to hit a tennis ball with a racket, for example. Over time, the muscle becomes tense, and instead of releasing the tension properly, the muscle spasms, resulting in a painful knot. You may develop a muscle knot if you’ve been training hard for an upcoming sporting event, or even if you’ve been sitting at a computer all day and accidentally moved too quickly. Acupuncture is often recommended to help treat muscle knots, but the question is, does it work?
During an acupuncture session, a paper-thin sterile needle is inserted into the affected muscle or muscle groups. As the needle is inserted, it stimulates tense muscle knots to relax. Acupuncture reduces inflammation fast by improving circulation to the injury site.
How can you tell if you’ve developed a muscle knot?
Muscle knots aren’t quite the same as muscle strains or sprains, but the symptoms are so similar that it can be tough to distinguish between them. Muscle strains occur when a joint or ligament has been overstretched, resulting in torn muscle fibers. Meanwhile, muscle sprains, although similar to strains, are more likely to lead to visible bruising around the affected area.
But muscle knots differ from both of these ailments. When you develop a muscle knot, the muscle becomes contracted, creating a lump that feels hard and may or may not have a rope-like texture. A muscle knot is usually easily palpable and feels achy and sensitive to the touch. You may notice heat coming from a muscle knot, and it’s not unusual for the pain of a muscle knot to radiate into surrounding muscle groups.
Muscle knots are extremely sensitive, and remain tense even when you’re at rest. You can develop a muscle knot in any muscle of the body, but they’re commonly found in the neck, back, and shoulders. Muscle knots can contribute to headaches, earaches, and toothaches, and you’re far more likely to develop muscle knots if you’re dehydrated and/or stressed.
How can acupuncture heal a muscle knot?
When an acupuncture needle is inserted into a muscle knot, it causes the muscle to twitch. This is an automatic reflex and it helps the contracted muscle to release built-up tension. The process is similar to dry needling, but because acupuncture takes a holistic approach to healing, acupuncture will also help address any underlying systemic issues you may be having that are contributing to the development of muscle knots.
When acupuncture needles are inserted, this triggers the knotted muscle to relax. It also creates microtrauma, tiny tears in the muscle fibers that results in an increase in circulation. The rush of blood flow to the needle site brings oxygen and nutrients to the region, which promotes healing. Better circulation helps the body clear out inflammatory cells, like cytokines, while also flooding the area with the tools your muscles need to recover.
In addition to improving circulation, acupuncture also stimulates the release of endorphins. These feel-good neurotransmitters bind to opioid receptors in the brain, raising your pain threshold naturally. Endorphins have also been shown to enhance mood, and when you feel better mentally, it’s much easier to cope with pain.
How many acupuncture sessions are needed to resolve a muscle knot?
How many acupuncture sessions you will need to treat a muscle knot depends on how severe the knot is. Mild muscle knots are much easier to resolve, especially when they’re addressed early. These types of knots can usually be treated in one or two sessions. But if you have a muscle knot that is particularly deep or if you delayed treatment, it may take several acupuncture sessions to fully release the tension.
For severe muscle knots, regular acupuncture sessions may be recommended for several weeks or months to alleviate the pain. Acupuncture helps reduce inflammation, which will make the muscle more comfortable at rest, and give you improved flexibility and range of motion during exercise. In some cases, physical therapy, like stretching, is recommended in addition to acupuncture sessions to help maximize results.
Often, muscle knots are accompanied by underlying musculoskeletal imbalances. If you have poor posture, this can influence the way your muscle groups function. If one muscle group gets thrown off kilter, it has a domino effect, leading to widespread dysfunction. Your acupuncturist will help you determine the ultimate cause of your muscle knot and work to restore proper function to each muscle group.
Can acupuncture help prevent muscle knots?
Yes, it can! Preventing muscle knots is about promoting healthy muscle function. When every muscle group is working as it should, you feel comfortable, which means you’re less likely to tense up or move the wrong way. By keeping your muscles and ligaments nice and supple, regular acupuncture sessions can help stop muscle knots before they even get a chance to start.
Acupuncture is an excellent preventative measure for muscle knots. Orthopedic acupuncture and sports acupuncture are two subtypes of acupuncture therapy that address the musculoskeletal system in particular. Although these two types of acupuncture differ, they both aim to reduce inflammation and improve flexibility. Enjoying a better range of motion allows you to train more effectively, so you can regain your strength quickly.
Getting started with acupuncture for muscle knots
Acupuncture is a safe drug-free alternative therapy for treating muscle knots. Regular sessions can be used as a supportive measure as you embark on your path to recovery. Because there are no negative side effects to acupuncture, it can be used in tandem with conventional treatments, including massage therapy, physical therapy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The quicker you start acupuncture treatments, the sooner you’ll feel better. At Lycoming Orthopedic & Sports Acupuncture, we’re committed to helping you achieve optimum health as naturally as possible. Contact our office today to learn more about how acupuncture can benefit your health. We can also help you determine which alternative therapies will work best for your lifestyle and wellness goals.