Knots, connective tissue & how it works
Updated: Jan 12
Have you ever had the feeling of having knots in your muscles? Perhaps when you were foam rolling or getting a massage, there was just one section in the muscle that felt so tight compared to the rest of the muscle. Where did that come from, and what is it? Well, the tight section in a muscle is what is known as a knot or adhesion. The knot comes from shortened connective tissue around the muscle’s fibers, bunching it into a knot-like shape. The connective tissue (a.k.a. fascia) is what helps hold all the fibers together to make it a nice shapely muscle. This connective tissue is strong, helping to retain the muscle’s shape, but it is also sticky. So sometimes, the stickiness causes the muscle fibers to bunch up and form a knot in the muscle along its fibers.
The connective tissue is a webbing that is all over the body connecting muscle to muscle but also holding the muscle together at the fiber’s levels. Fascia covers our body similar to the way plastic wrap would go over the leftover Thanksgiving turkey to be stored in the fridge. It holds it in place and provides tensile strength allowing us to move neighboring muscles as one chain. This coverage over the entire body is what is known as the fascial webbing of the body. This webbing is organized into various lines called myofascial planes or ‘planes’ as I will call them.
These planes of connective tissue link muscle to muscle, linking them into one kinetic chain of fascia that supports the movement. The picture that goes with this article shows the Backline of fascia, which is also known as the ‘Superficial backline’. The Backline connects the bottom/plantar part of the foot, the muscles of the calf, to the hamstrings, going to the sacrum (tailbone), up the spine, along with the skull and ending just above your eyebrows. This particular line of fascia helps us stand up straight, so it works full time when we move about during our days. The backline is elastic, so it will stretch if you reach for your toes or perform any movement similar to that, but it will always help you return to your upright position. Each plane of fascia works together to help us move seamlessly throughout our day, no matter if we are dancing at a computer, or even just walking.
As you go to the gym, prepare a meal, play your favorite sport, sit down to read, or do practically any other activity knots can build up in the fascia and muscle from moving through our day. Being alive and living out your life will create adhesions along these planes in the muscle, and that’s why over long periods of time, no matter how athletic you may or may not be, you will develop some knots. Sadly knots building up in the muscles is a side effect of being alive, and any activity level will create them. Knots in developing in the muscles will also contribute to why you feel you are getting slower with age, though it’s not the only reason, but that is a different article for another time.
When the adhesion/knot forms in a muscle, it causes the muscle to partially lose its ability to expand and contract. No matter what the muscle looks like or where it is, the ability to expand and contract is the primary function of a muscle. By not being able to do this over time, you move slower, as well as start getting pain in the joint or muscle. On top of this, it also may not be able to perform as well as it did. We don’t see this all happen at once because it builds up over time, so if we take care of it early, it never gains the momentum to get bad.
Not taking care of the adhesions over a long period of time will cause the muscles and fascial chains to function differently which can eventually lead to posture changes, ligaments getting weaker and bones slipping out of place; in other words, it will lead to pain and injury. This is why it is important to provide your physical body with routine physical care by massaging and stretching the body.
When knots and/or scar tissue form in the fascia, they have a strong chance to overtime create dysfunction someplace else. For example, a runner that has developed chronically tight feet and calves that doesn’t take care of it over time can develop chronic headaches, a stiff neck, chronically tight hamstrings, or tightness in the tailbone. All it takes is the tightness to develop in one part of the fascial chain to begin to pull in other places, similar to how if you keep making knots in a rope, the rope shortens giving you less slack and making the whole thing tighter.
The good news is that the knots in the fascia throughout your body can be undone with massage therapy and proper foam rolling to supplement. Fascia kind of acts like saltwater taffy, as the structure heats up, it becomes soft and easy to reshape. So heat, compression, and some specific hands techniques from your licensed massage therapist will help remove the knot and realign your muscle fibers, bringing you back to normal.
It is wise to take care of the knots periodically because those adverse side effects will grow and start to cause dysfunction in a new muscle or area of the body. So practice good self-care by rolling and stretching out your muscles a few times a week for about 10 minutes a day and get a massage between four to ten weeks apart maximum. You only gain a new body with each life lived, so do your fascia a favor and get on a foam roll right now or get scheduled for a professional massage therapy session to live your best life.