Weightlifters are no stranger to pain. There's the good kind of pain — that mild muscle soreness the day after an intense workout — and a bad kind of pain, such as a single point of discomfort that ranges from mild to intense. The latter can be caused by a muscle strain or by muscle knots, which occur when the muscle fibers become bunched up and tender. In most cases, if you can find the knot, you can massage it out yourself.
Understanding Muscle Knots
Sometimes muscle fibers contract during exercise but then are unable to release. Called Myofascial Trigger Points, or MTPs, they're a common issue for weightlifters and are often experienced in the neck, upper and middle back and shoulders. MTPs are caused by acute trauma, such as an injury to the muscle, and they're also caused by the overstimulation from intense weightlifting. They can also be caused by postural stress, such as poor lifting form. In some cases, your knots may not be related to lifting, but may be exacerbated by it. The postural stress may come from sitting too long or with poor posture at your day job — the tough shoulder workout just makes it worse.
Treating Muscle Knots
Treatment largely depends on the intensity of the shoulder pain and whether or not you can pinpoint the location of the knot. If you are experiencing intense pain, rest and a visit to your doctor may be necessary. For milder pain, see if you can locate the knot. Use your fingers to feel for a lump that can be as small as a pinhead and as big as a thumb.
If you can locate the knot, you can use direct myofascial release technique to massage out the knot. You can do this lying down or standing up, and all you need is a tennis or lacrosse ball. Put the ball on the knot between your shoulder and the wall or ground. Apply pressure with your bodyweight. Roll the ball up and down and side to side over the muscle knot.
If you can't locate the knot, you can still use myofascial release, but you'll have to cover a larger area. Roll the ball all around the area where you have pain. When you locate an especially tender spot, spend some time rolling in just that area.
Use firm pressure, enough to get deep into the muscle, but not so much that it causes intense pain. Start out with gentle pressure and build up as the knot gets smoothed out. Do this for two or three minutes two to three times a day until the knot is gone and no longer causing discomfort.
Preventing Muscle Knots
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? If shoulder knots are a frequent problem, work on your posture when sitting and your form when lifting. Address any muscle imbalances that may cause your shoulders to round forward. See a physical therapist if one is available to you.
Make sure you're allowing enough time for recovery between shoulder workouts. Overtraining can lead to injury and muscle knots. Gently stretch your shoulders after every workout, and do some shoulder mobility exercises as part of your shoulder workout.
Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is common cause of muscle knots. Avoid sugary, caffeinated and processed foods that can contribute to dehydration, and eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Be sure to get plenty of sleep so that you're well-prepared for tough workouts — and life in general.