Last updated: Apr 28, 2016

Q: What is a muscle knot, and can massages get rid of them?

It's not entirely clear what causes muscle knots—but your muscles don't literally get twisted and tied. Experts think that these muscle adhesions (also called myofascial trigger points) likely result from repeated tension and overuse in a specific area. Hot spots for tightness are the neck, shoulders, and back. Clenching your muscles out of stress or anxiety can create knots, or they can develop due to an injury, poor posture, or even long periods of inactivity.

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Massage is in fact one of the best ways to release the tension. If a pro massage isn't an option, you can DIY it: Put firm pressure on the area, either by lying on a tennis or lacrosse ball or foam roller; hold for about a minute while taking deep breaths. Heating or cooling the area may also help ease the contraction and reduce any associated pain. Taking an OTC pain reliever can also help. If the discomfort won't go away, check in with your doctor; she may recommend physical therapy. 

Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.