Will the not-painful knot in my shoulder ever go away?
December 23, 2010 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Will the not-painful knot in my shoulder ever go away?

For a year in 2008-2009, I had an awkward computer setup at work wherein my body twisted to the right. During that period, I developed a knot in my left shoulder. It was painful and felt like a muscle knot; it appears to be on my trapezius (but I have no medical background) and is visible as a bump midway down the slope of my shoulder as you face me. Now that I have a normal, straight, but unfancy computer setup I have no pain, but I still have a knot that I can see and feel. Recognizing that at some point I should consult a doctor about my mystery shoulder issue, do you have any idea (1) why it's still there more than a year after I ceased using awkward computer setup; (2) if and when it'll ever go away; and (3) if there's anything I can do to help it go away?

Other possibly pertinent facts: I do carry a purse daily, but I vary them, they aren't heavy, and I don't carry it just on one shoulder. I'm reasonably but not remarkably active (I do yoga, and have been doing a new strength training routine that includes shoulder work for about 3 months). I have tried nothing other than rubbing it myself to make it go away. This question is prompted by idle curiosity, not any real concern about it.
posted by mchorn to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ever tried massage therapy?
posted by ErikaB at 8:59 PM on December 23, 2010

Best answer: So, some education on muscles!

Muscles are made of tiny fibers which are grouped in bundles. When muscles do their job, they contract. Getting fine control over your muscles is training your nervous system to figure out which bundles to fire off and in what order. So far, that's how things normally work.

Strain, being locked into a position for too long, or injury, can cause bundles to fire and get locked up. Stuck in "on" mode, as it were. That's what most folks call a "knot". Give it enough time, and your body's natural healing will accidentally build connective tissue there, helping it lock in place ever more. (Scar tissue, does this right away as part of the healing process).

So, how do we turn off the muscle bundle? Options include:

1) Massage - relax the bundles and fibers around it, and manipulate the area to break up any unnecessary connective tissue.

2) Neuromuscular work- usually used with massage, but also includes having you press against resistance in the opposite direction of which the muscle would contract. Your nervous system is wired to turn off one set of muscles (the antagonistic muscles) to whatever action you're doing. Also helps you from locking it up again, in the future.

3) Trigger point therapy - also forces the bundles to loosen up, but it's very direct and painful to experience. Usually only takes 10-15 minutes to engage.

4) Muscle relaxants, often directly injected into the muscle body. This is what a lot of doctors will prescribe for serious muscle tension. This is probably the second to last resort choice. (The last resort being surgery, which often gets recommended for stuff like frozen shoulder, etc.).

My recommendation? Do massage, THEN do gentle stretching. If you find it keeps locking up, odds are you're either doing something habitual (perhaps those shoulder bags, perhaps something else) or you're set up to lock up based on an emotional trigger (example- stress at work often goes straight to people's shoulders or necks).
posted by yeloson at 10:40 PM on December 23, 2010 [10 favorites]

Heat helps me with knotted-up muscles. Pop a gel pack in the microwave or plug in a heating pad.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:41 AM on December 24, 2010

Excercise will help you loosen your muscles up. I suggest something that gets your arms and shoulders rotating without putting any weight on them -- swimming fits the bill! I'm a heavy-purse-carrier too and swimming keeps my back feeling normal. But if you can get swimming, do some large and small arm-circles and do lots of stretches every morning and night, as well as throughout the day when its bothering you.
posted by custard heart at 12:11 PM on December 24, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, yeloson, that sounds right on point! I'll definitely look into massage therapy and increase my shoulder stretching.
posted by mchorn at 7:41 AM on December 25, 2010

You may also want to include (slow, gentle) stretches for your neck in that. Particularly turning left and right. The trap muscles go up into the neck, as do many others.
posted by yeloson at 9:44 AM on December 25, 2010

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