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What is Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

By Sandra Koehler
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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Myofascial pain syndrome is a form of chronic muscle pain caused by trigger points. Trigger points are small, hyperirritable contraction knots in the muscle that cause pain when touched. Since these trigger points affect the fascia — a sheet or band of fibrous tissue which envelopes, separates and binds together muscles, organs, and other soft structures of the body — this pain can radiate to other areas or cause referred pain, or pain in another area.

Symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome include a deep, persistent pain or ache in the muscle, joint or muscle stiffness, muscle tension and sensitivity to touch, palpable nodules or knots, and difficulty sleeping due to pain. It has been linked to many areas of pain including but not limited to the jaw, head, neck, pelvis, back, arms and legs.

Myofascial pain syndrome is muscle pain that persists or worsens over time. It can be caused by some sort of muscle injury, overuse or repetitive stress of muscles, or stress and anxiety. In order to properly diagnose this muscle pain, a detailed medical history and palpation, or feeling for these tightened areas is used. Once determined trigger points are the culprit of pain, manipulation, or pressure on or around the area to release the muscle contraction may be helpful.

Though myosfascial pain syndrome is not life-threatening, it can cause complications over time. Muscle weakness can occur over time due to the inactivity, or guarding of muscles due to pain. Lack of sleep due to pain can cause a decrease in focus and mental clarity, general irritability, dizziness and depression symptoms, memory loss and an increase risk for things like hypertension, or high blood pressure and heart disease.

Conservative treatment for myofascial pain syndrome includes a thorough stretching routine, and coping strategies to offset daily routines that may cause pain. For example, poor posture can contribute to muscle strain in the low back, and repetitive motions, especially when coupled with poor body mechanics can cause a variety of areas of pain and tightness. By learning proper body mechanics and alternative ways to perform daily activities, muscle strain and stress can be diminished, thus, decreasing this chronic, persistent muscle pain.

Massage techniques can also be very effective to manage myofascial pain syndrome. By addressing trigger point areas with direct pressure on or near the knotted area, and by performing gentle traction-types strokes to release the restricted fascia, called myofascial release, massage can break up trigger points and reduce pain.

In some cases, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antidepressants are also helpful. Alternative methods, such as acupuncture may also help relieve pain. In extreme cases, where pain and tightness is chronic and unresponsive to other treatment methods, a trigger point injection may be considered. This is where medications, such as steroids or a local anesthetic are injected into the trigger point to release tightness.

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Discussion Comments
By Whatever4242 — On Nov 08, 2012

However, it should be noted that people with postural issues and strain and injury to the myofascial system can exist in the absence of any connective tissue diseases. Many people will usually run into a myofascial trouble at some point in their lives. Very often the pain can be debilitating for so many people.

Whether you have a connective tissue disease or not, you still need to understand myofascial related troubles affect us all, whether you believe it or not. Doctors, more often than not, have never paid much attention to the myofascial system. Please read the wisegeek article about fascia and read the last two comments by me, just under the article.

By Whatever4242 — On Nov 08, 2012

Many people diagnosed with myofascial pan syndrome and fibromyalgia are misdiagnosed. Many simply have a connective tissue disease called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome or perhaps another Connective Tissue disease may exist in the absence of EDS. Sometimes people don't have dramatic features displaying the disease such as extensive hypermobility, but it may exist in the smaller joints of the fingers. Smooth stretchy skin is usually common but not always obvious. Please read wisegeek's article on fascia and my two comments on fascia just under the article.

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