April 3, 2019/Primary Care

Knots in Your Neck? How to Try a Trigger Point Massage to Release Them

Take matters into your own hands

Man applying pressure point message to his neck

Your neck muscles are so tight you could strum them like guitar strings. But this song is definitely not music to your ears.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

You’re rubbing and pushing and prodding your sore muscles – but is that actually helping? Or could you be making things worse?

With the right simple steps, your tensed-up muscles can start whistling a happier tune. Chiropractor Chad Adams, DC, explains the ins and outs of trigger point massage.

Muscle knots: A muscle freak-out

Muscle knots are those kinks in your back and the tight, ropy strands in your neck. Also known as trigger points, they are areas where your muscles have tensed up and refused to let go.

“A trigger point is a muscle spasm — a signal from the brain saying, I’m not sure what to do, so I’m going to freak out and be tight,” says Dr. Adams.

Trigger points form as a result of repetitive activity. That might be something like swinging a tennis racket over and over, or – for many of us – hunching over our desks and pounding the keyboard day in and day out.

“The body can endure a lot of stress, but we weren’t designed to do the same activity over and over, every day,” he says. “Those tight spots are cries for help.”

Trigger point self-massage 101

So how can you get your freaked-out muscles to chill? Pressing on the muscle knots, called a trigger point self-massage, is a great place to start, Dr. Adams says. The simple pressure can help muscles relax.

Here’s how to self-massage:

  1. Find the tight spots (odds are you won’t have to look too hard).
  2. Use your fingers (or tools like foam rollers and massage balls) to press firmly into the trigger points.
  3. Repeat for three to five minutes, ideally as often as five or six times per day. “It needs to be part of the daily routine,” Dr. Adams says.

How hard should you push? It varies. Some people can handle intense pressure; others are a bit more … delicate (no shame). Go ahead and dig in — it’s unlikely you’ll push hard enough to do any damage, Dr. Adams says.

Still, it might not feel great in the moment. “Discomfort is part of the process,” he adds. But intense pain is not. If you feel a sharp pinch or tingling, you might have an injury that goes beyond muscle tension. In that case, quit with the thumbs already and get yourself to a doctor.

Do knot give up: Make a change to your environment

After each mini-massage, your muscles should feel looser. Over time, regular trigger point massages can help bring longer-lasting relief.

But also think about what you can change in your environment to make your muscles happier. Could a better desk chair help your posture? Can you take breaks to stretch throughout the day?

If you’ve made those changes, but the knots keep returning for an encore, it might be time to call in the pros. Consider seeing an expert such as a chiropractor, physical therapist or massage therapist.

Above all, Dr. Adams advises, pay attention.

“Too often, people ignore the signals from their bodies. Pain is the warning light on the dashboard,” he says. “Your body is telling you it’s time to make a change.”


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

woman with painful neck after sleeping pillow
December 9, 2020/Sleep
Is Your Pillow Giving You a Stiff Neck While You Sleep?

7 tips for choosing the best pillow to ease neck pain

A person holding their neck.
October 30, 2018/Rheumatology & Immunology
Easy Ways to Prevent a Stiff Neck

A physical therapist says it boils down to two key things

3 Top Tips to Avoid a Stiff Neck from Cycling
August 5, 2015/Exercise & Fitness
3 Top Tips to Avoid a Stiff Neck from Cycling

Make sure you have proper posture and bike fit

Split screen: poisonous plant/venomous insect
April 24, 2024/Primary Care
What It Means To Be Poisonous vs. Venomous

Poisons are inhaled, ingested or absorbed by your skin, while venoms are delivered by bites and stings

Male holding pill and glass of water, with assorted alcohol behind him crossed out
April 22, 2024/Primary Care
Why You Should Avoid Alcohol on Antibiotics

Even a little alcohol can slow your recovery, so it’s best to wait until after you finish your antibiotics before imbibing

Man sitting down at beach workout area with head in hand, eye closed
April 8, 2024/Primary Care
Why Does the Sun Make You Tired? Here Are 7 Reasons

Your body works overtime to keep you cool on hot summer days, bringing on sun fatigue

anticoagulant pills
March 19, 2024/Primary Care
What To Avoid When Taking a Blood Thinner

Bleeding is a risk and warrants taking care, but the reward of this lifesaving medication is great

Applying aloe vera to irritated skin
February 27, 2024/Primary Care
Do Home Remedies for Ringworm Actually Work?

Some natural home remedies may offer relief, but they lack scientific evidence and won’t typically cure the condition

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey