Fastest Way to Rid Muscle Knots in Neck and Shoulders | Dr. Berg

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

Massaging muscles to relieve neck and shoulder pain is often ineffective. Instead, you should focus on stretching the opposing muscle to relieve muscle knots.

Knotted muscles can result from poor posture, inactivity, injury, or emotional stress. Another common but rarely recognized reason for muscle tension in your right upper back is sluggish gallbladder function.

Learn a simple technique to help prevent muscle knots and discover why supporting your gallbladder health can ease chronic muscle pain.

Woman with muscle knot in neck

How to get rid of muscle knots fast

Conventional treatments for shoulder and neck muscle knots include trigger point massage therapy, heat, or using a foam roller to relieve discomfort and improve circulation in the affected muscle.

However, these techniques typically only provide relief for short periods and are largely ineffective in preventing muscle knots.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, stretching the opposite muscle helps to relieve knotted muscles through a process called reciprocal inhibition. 

Professor David A. Rosenbaum, an expert in rehabilitation science and author of Human Motor Control, explains, “Reciprocal inhibition prevents muscles from working against each other during responses to muscle stretch.” 

This means that activating one muscle group results in the relaxation of the opposing muscle group. When the opposite muscle group is contracted, it signals the muscles with the knot to relax, which relieves muscle tension and pain. 

Here are two stretches that help to get rid of muscle tension in the neck and shoulders:

Backward head tilt 

To treat muscle knots in your neck:

  1. Slowly tilt your head back until you feel a stretch in the front of your neck.

  2. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, then slowly return your head to a neutral position.

  3. Repeat this stretch as many times as needed.

Doorway pectoral stretch

For fast relief from painful shoulder muscles, stretch your pectoral chest muscles: 

  1. Stand in a doorway and place your forearms at shoulder height against the doorframe.

  2. Slowly lean forward, keeping your forearms in contact with the door frame until you feel a stretch in your chest. 

  3. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat as many times as needed. 

Watch the video below to learn how you can quickly release neck tension and prevent muscle knots.  

What are muscle knots?

A muscle knot, also known as a trigger point, is a tight and sensitive area of contracted muscle tissue that often is painful to the touch.  

Research published in the Journal of Injury, Function, and Rehabilitation suggests that muscle knots can form in all major muscle groups but are commonly found in shoulder and neck muscles and can cause various symptoms, including muscle pain, restricted range of motion, jaw pain, and headaches. 

Here are some common reasons for knotted muscles:

While trigger points are typically a result of knotted muscle fibers, they can also be linked to other medical issues, and it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine underlying causes and formulate an appropriate treatment plan. 

Myofascial trigger point

How do muscle knots form?

Muscle knots form when muscle fibers contract and tighten, resulting in a localized spasm and tender spot within the muscle.

Trigger points restrict the blood flow to the affected area, which deprives muscle fibers of oxygen and nutrients and can cause inflammation, further exacerbating the knot and surrounding tissue. 

This explains why muscle knots can become more painful and increasingly harder to treat the longer they persist. 

Gallbladder illustration

Neck and shoulder pain could be related to your gallbladder

“If you suffer from recurring shoulder or neck pain despite regular stretching and doing strength exercises to keep your muscles healthy, you may need to focus on your gallbladder health,” explains Dr. Berg.   

The gallbladder is a small organ in your upper right abdomen that stores and concentrates bile needed to digest and absorb dietary fats.

Sluggish gallbladder function, poor dietary habits, and impaired liver function can cause bile to thicken, leading to bile sludge and the formation of gallstones

Bile sludge can block the small ducts connecting the gallbladder, liver, and digestive tract and cause inflammation of gallbladder tissue and the nerves surrounding the gallbladder.     

The same nerve fibers that connect to the gallbladder also regulate other tissues, including your right shoulder and neck muscles. 

When this nerve becomes irritated or inflamed, it can radiate pain to other areas explaining the link between poor gallbladder health and persistent muscle pain in the upper right back. 

A large study published by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggests that following a high-fat, low-carb diet such as Healthy Keto® in combination with intermittent fasting supports gallbladder function and normal bile production. 

You can further support your digestive health by taking a high-quality gallbladder support supplement containing bile salts, and digestive enzymes can help to stimulate bile flow and eliminate bile sludge. 

Backward head tilt

Key takeaways

Stretching the opposite muscle group relaxes tense muscles, relieves pain, and can help to prevent shoulder and neck knots. 

If you experience persistent muscle pain in your upper right back despite regular stretching, you may suffer referred pain from an inflamed and sluggish gallbladder

Following a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet and taking bile salts supports gallbladder function, helps to clear bile sludge, and can ease muscular tension in your right shoulder and neck. 


1. What does a muscle knot in the neck feel like?

A muscle knot in the neck is a contracted ball of muscle fiber that can feel like a hard bump and is typically tender or painful when pressed.  

2. Does a muscle knot feel like a lump?

Yes, a muscle knot generally feels like a small, hard lump that causes discomfort and can be painful when pressure is applied. 

3. How long do muscle knots in the neck last?

How long muscle knots last depends on the severity of the knot and the underlying cause. Regular stretching can resolve mild muscle knots within a few days, while more severe knots may take a couple of weeks to disappear.  

4. How do you get rid of a knot in your neck?

The fastest way to eliminate a muscle knot in your neck is by stretching the opposite muscle group. Slowly tilt your head back until you can feel a stretch in your throat, hold for 30 seconds, and return your head to a neutral position. Repeat this stretch as many times as needed. 


5. What causes knots in the neck muscles?

Poor posture or sleep position, stress, injury, and dehydration are common causes of muscle knots in the neck.  


6. What causes muscle knots in the shoulders?

Repetitive muscle movement, lack of muscle strength, prolonged inactivity, and poor posture are typical root causes for developing knots in shoulder muscles.

7. What is the fastest way to get rid of a knot?

Stretching the opposite muscle group helps to relax the affected muscles, which relieves muscle tension and gets rid of muscle knots fast. 

8. Do neck knots go away on their own?

While some neck knots go away on their own, without proper stretching, most knots will worsen over time and can cause significant discomfort and chronic pain.

9. What are muscle knots?

Muscle knots are contracted spasms of muscle fibers that restrict blood flow to the affected area, leading to irritation and inflammation of localized muscle tissue. 

10. Can the gallbladder cause neck pain and shoulder pain?

Yes, in some cases, a painful neck or shoulders can be caused by referred pain from an inflamed or irritated gallbladder. The same nerve that regulates gallbladder function is connected to your upper right back muscles. An irritated or inflamed gallbladder can radiate pain along the nerve fibers to your neck and shoulder muscles. 


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