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Myofascial pain – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on January 30, 2014

Myofascial pain syndrome refers to a persistent painful condition. When pressure is applied on the sensitive or trigger points in the muscles, a person affected by myofascial pain syndrome will experience pain in those areas of the body that have no relation to the trigger points. Such transferred pain is known as ‘referred pain.’

Myofascial pain syndrome is generally caused due to repetitive contraction of a specific muscle. It can result from monotonous movements performed in hobbies, sports, or jobs, or from muscle tension caused by excessive stress.

Almost everyone has suffered from muscle tension pain some time or the other. However, the discomfort that accompanies myofascial pain syndrome aggravates or persists. Treatment options include trigger point injections, use of relaxation techniques, physical therapy, and intake of painkiller drugs.

Symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome

Some of the signs and symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome are as follows:

  • Intense and deep pain in some muscle
  • A sensitive knot in some muscle
  • Presence of ache that persists or deteriorates
  • Extreme pain can result in sleeping difficulties

A few complications that can arise due to myofascial pain syndrome are as follows:

  • Fibromyalgia: A few studies indicate that myofascial pain syndrome can cause fibromyalgia in certain patients. Fibromyalgia is a long-lasting disorder characterized by pain throughout the body. It is also thought that with the passage of timethe brains of fibromyalgia patients become increasingly sensitive to pain signals. Myofascial pain syndrome is believed to be responsible for commencing such an abnormal process.
  • Sleep anomalies: The symptoms associated with myofascial pain syndrome can cause problems in sleeping. Patients may find it difficult to get into a desirable sleep position. Also, movements during sleep can cause a trigger point to be hit thereby awakening you.

Causes of myofascial pain syndrome

Overuse or injuries to the muscles can result in the formation of tender regions in the tight muscle fibers. Such sensitive regions are known as trigger points. These points can cause pain and strain all across the specific muscle. When such pain continues for prolonged durations or aggravates, then it is referred to as myofascial pain syndrome.

Any kind of stimulus, like pressure, can trigger the sensitive points in the muscle, thereby causing myofascial pain syndrome. A few factors that can increase the vulnerability to muscle trigger points are listed below:

  • Injury to muscles: Constant stress on a particular muscle, or some muscle injury can result in formation of trigger points. For example, an area near or inside a strained muscle may turn into a trigger point. Poor posture and repetitive movements can also increase the susceptibility to development of trigger points.
  • Anxiety and stress:Individuals who are persistently beset with anxiety and stress are at greater risk to development of trigger points in the muscles. It is hypothesized that stressed individuals are more prone to tightening their muscles which can lead to repeated strain on muscles, thereby making them more vulnerable to trigger points.

Diagnosis of myofascial pain syndrome

The doctor may carry out a physical exam wherein he/she may use a finger to apply gentle pressure on the affected region and then check for tensed up spots. There are certain ways in which the doctor will touch the trigger points so as to get a particular response. For example, a specific touch may cause a muscle twitch.

Muscle pain can be caused due to a variety of reasons. Hence, the physician will order for many kinds of additional procedures and tests to eliminate the other causes.

Treatment of myofascial pain syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome can be treated via trigger point injections, medicines, or physical therapy.

  • The doctor may prescribe antidepressants and pain killers to alleviate the pain. Sedatives may be given to relax the affected muscles.
  • Physical therapy is devised as per the needs of the individual patient. It may include the following:
    • Massage of the affected muscles to ease the pain. The physical therapist may concentrate on specific parts of the muscle, or use long hand strokes across it to alleviate the tension.
    • Gentle stretching exercises of the affected muscle can also help relieve the pain. A numbing solution is sprayed on the skin whenever a patient experiences trigger point pain during stretching exercises.
    • Ultrasound therapy involves the use of sound waves to elevate the warmth and blood circulation in the affected muscles, thereby facilitating the healing of myofascial pain syndrome
    • Application of heat via a hot shower or a hot pack can also help reduce pain and muscle tension.
    • Different needle procedures such as acupuncture, dry needling,and/or injection of steroids or numbing agents into the trigger points can help in easing the pain. Dry needling is a process wherein just the needle is inserted in and around the trigger point.
    • Self-care measures for easing myofascial pain syndrome symptoms include a healthy diet and sufficient rest as well as engaging in varied relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, etc.

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