Finding The Knots

42-15622239There are several names that came to mind for this post: “That’s the Spot!” “Ouch!” “Digging Deep,” “Seven,” and plenty of others, some of which sounded totally inappropriate and others that could be misleading. So as not to leave you wondering what all these possible post names relate to, they are tied to the deep tissue sports massage I had over the weekend.

I have had one other true massage in my life and it was the most amazing, relaxing, comforting, soothing experience ever. My sports massage was the absolute opposite. After talking to some personal trainers and reading plenty of articles and forum posts about various ways to “treat” IT band pain, I was convinced that I needed to see a massage therapist. It made sense to me that if the masseuse could not find anything wrong with the muscles in my leg then I would have a much larger problem at hand. So I dug out a gift card waiting to be used and made an appointment for a 60-minute deep tissue sports massage at a local spa and salon.

I was shown into a cozy room with candles lit, calming melodic music playing, and I snuggled under wonderfully heated sheets thinking how nice it would be to doze off while the massage therapist fixed all my IT band problems. David came in and we talked about my running, the marathon, the pain I’d been feeling and he explained how he would use deep tissue techniques along with ice and heat to work on the muscles. No sooner did I shut my eyes then to have them fly back open in shock and surprise as he went to work on my leg.

Working on the Knots

For the next hour there was no sleeping for me, no soothing, comforting, pleasant massage experience. Not even close. At one point David told me he did not want to see my face looking “that way” any more. I guess I didn’t realize how badly I’d been cringing as he worked on the massive and plentiful knots surrounding the IT band on my left leg. He said that on a scale of 1 to 10 I should not be letting him go any deeper than a 7 with the deep tissue massaging and once he said that I was able to keep my face “normal” as I called out “seven” rather often.

I was truly amazed at the number of knotted muscles he found on my leg. I have been using a foam roller for several weeks and recently thought it stopped working. It turns out I was just not focusing on the right muscles any more. The knot that was most sensitive is in the exact area where I feel the pangs of pain kick in when I try to run more than a mile. The knots surrounding it probably don’t help but they aren’t as sensitive as the mother knot. The masseuse used many techniques to work on these knots. He used a combination of ice and heat and there is no question that I will gladly accept a hot stone massage any time! I thought the ice portion burned which I was told was bad since it was ice being applied to my leg. David used his hands, elbow, forearm, and his whole body weight to dig, pull, push, lengthen, stretch, and work the muscles in my leg.

He kept asking me to relax and to release the muscles in my leg. I had no idea that I was flexing them and apologized for not being able to relax. This is a common problem for me. I lost count of the number of times he had to shake my leg out to try to loosen the muscles. We determined that as a recipient of massage therapy I had failed. I asked if I could walk away with at least a “B,” but he could only give me a “D” as far as grades go. Between my inability to relax and the intensity of the knots in my legs, there was no way I was walking out of the room with flying colors.

The great news is that the root of my problem is a bunch of tight muscles. I just have to keep working on them, keep stretching, and continue to strengthen those leg muscles, and running should be back in my future in no time. We discussed the importance of  getting oxygen to the muscles by contracting and releasing them (whether through self-massage, foam rolling, or exercise), getting more potassium into my system (hello bananas!), and staying well hydrated to keep the muscles nourished.

People use the phrase “good pain” to describe massages, stretches, and that feeling of having pushed yourself a little past your threshold. This massage was “good” in that I learned the source of my pain, but by all means it was not “good pain.” It was just pure pain and I have the bruises to prove it.

9 thoughts on “Finding The Knots

  1. Kelly

    Aww! Thanks for sharing this. I have been wanting to get a deep tissue massage for a long while now – I have super tight shoulder muscles (it has started affecting my long runs). I figured it would exactly be a nice experience but now I know!

    You might be interested in this book called Muscular Retraining (his website: Its helped me, but its a work in progress as I have had the tightness over ten years.

    Hope it gets easier soon


  2. Natalie Post author

    Kelly, Thanks for the link; I’ll definitely check it out. Despite the pain of the massage I actually think it was still worth doing and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t know how else to effectively get those knots out and I know that to run pain-free that will have to happen. Foam rolling (now that I know where to roll!) continues to be painful but I can feel the knots be worked. All in due time and if it lets me get more long runs in sooner rather than later, bring on the pain! Good luck with your shoulder massage! I wonder–do you sometimes scrunch your shoulders up when you run? I used to do this and had tight shoulders until I learned to relax on runs and loosen my shoulders, keep my neck straight, and focus on something about 100 yards in front of me. Happy running!

  3. Christine

    Ouch. I highly recommend the book ” The Whartons’ Stretch Book”. It is a comprehensive book that teaches you prescriptive stretches by sport, focusing on the method of stretching one isolated muscle at a time.
    good luck with your Mother Knot,

  4. Jon Aronstein

    Hi- Kellly that is a good book that you recommended, I have spoken with Craig before and i am a practitioner of similar work (the work of Thomas Hanna, PhD, on which Craig bases a lot of his stuff- Clinical Somatic Education).
    His work, like mine, aims to change the “software”, that is the neuro-muscular programming that holds muscles tight and organizes movement patterns. The problem with some massage, rolling, and stretching is that they all treat the “hardware” (the muscles themselves) without getting at the underlying “software” problems that caused the hardware problems. We say that it is like banging on the keys of the keyboard when the software of the computer crashes–not going to help. Some stretching, massage, rolling, etc can be beneficial, but does not take the place of making the deeper changes to neuro-muscular control. In fact, the kind of deep-tissue work Natalie mentioned, as well as some rolling, stretching, etc, can actually cause greater muscle tension. Every PT, Dr. Chiropractor, etc know about the underlying mechanisms that cause this, yet they often advocate techniques that do it anyway. I do work professionally with Athletes and others to make lasting changes and to improve their warm-ups and their ability to remain injury free, efficient, and finely-tuned. I will post a link to the article I am just finishing about this….
    Natalie, thanks for the site here, I will keep checking it. I am a tennis player myself, and also trying to learn more about some of the specifics of the way runners train. We should talk about that “Bring on the pain” statement 🙂 There are better ways and the pain just may be leading to longer term problems. Feel free to drop me an email.

  5. Natalie Post author

    Jon, Thank you for the comment, great information! The massage therapist that I worked with did talk to me about the importance of identifying the cause of the pain and addressing that first with massage, rolling, etc as supplements to deal with the pain. I am pretty sure overuse caused a good bit of my problem but I also blame some cambered streets that I ran on frequently. I had pretty new shoes and checked their soles so I feel like I can rule that out. I’ve had trainers recommend seeing a chiro or other doctor to determine if maybe one leg is longer than the other which could also contribute to pain. I just did a 10K with no pain at all and credit all the various treatments, stretches, etc I tried. I plan to start slow getting back into running & will be writing about that journey. Would love to connect with you on more topics and look forward to getting in touch. Thanks again for the feedback!

  6. Pingback: Finding Flexibility: Flexing and Relaxing the Muscles | Health and Running

  7. Kelly

    So sorry to hear of your experince. I have had to deep muscle mass., but nothing like what you are saying. Now my first one i was sick for two days( said it was all the toxins in the muscle),Second,no problem going for another. I think i would find a diferent place to go next.and ask them to do a medium mass.
    I was told by my therapist your fist time isn’t suppose to be as deep as the next.
    Good luck,I do know the knots can be painful.

  8. Tracey

    I know what you mean by “good pain”. I had a deep tissue done on my legs 2 days ago. The only way I can describe the pain is the worst pain in my life. But now my legs feel a lot better, still have a few bruises, but they feel more relaxed and not as tight.

    During the massage, I lost count how many times I said “I hate you” for talking me into this. I work at a Golds Gym and we have an inhouse Massage Therapist. He kept saying it will hurt like hell now but in a day or two your legs will feel alot better. My leg calve had been giving me problems running and was extremely tight all the time.

    One way to help with the next day pain is to make sure you drink plenty of water afterwards and the following day. I was told to drink a gallon before going to bed. I think that is a little much for someone my size (5’1, 109lbs.), but I did have 2 liters plus a bottle of Gatorade. My legs were sore the following morning but I was able to walk and as the day went on the pain went away and I was able to walk and move a lot better.

  9. Hildred Leckie

    A foam roller is cylindrical device constructed from dense foam. Originally, athletes used foam rollers to compress and massage very specific areas of muscle tension and pain. These areas, called trigger points (or more commonly known as a knot) develop over time and must be untangled to recover muscle to its original length. A muscular knot is a muscle that’s tangled-up in the fascia of our skin. Regular massage of trigger points sends signals to the brain to start a process called myofascial release, which frees your muscle from your surrounding fascia.^’

    My own, personal blog site


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