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Chronic Myofascial Pain
What is chronic myofascial pain?
Most people have muscle pain from time to time. But chronic myofascial pain is a kind of ongoing or longer-lasting pain that can affect the connective tissue (fascia) of a muscle or group of muscles. With myofascial pain, there are areas called trigger points. Trigger points are usually in fascia or in a tight muscle.
Myofascial pain often goes away with treatment.
What causes chronic myofascial pain?
Experts don't know exactly what causes chronic myofascial pain. It may start after:
- Strain or injury to the muscles, ligaments, or tendons.
- Using a muscle after you haven't used it for a while, such as after a stroke or after having a broken bone.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of chronic myofascial pain is ongoing or longer-lasting muscle pain, in areas such as the low back, neck, shoulders, and chest. You might feel the pain or the pain may get worse when you press on a trigger point. The muscle may be swollen or hard—you may hear it called a "taut band" of muscle or "knot" in the muscle. Symptoms of myofascial pain may include:
- A muscle that is sensitive or tender when touched.
- Muscle pain that happens with pressure on a trigger point.
- Pain that feels like aching, burning, stinging, or stabbing.
- Reduced range of motion in the affected area.
- A feeling of weakness in the affected muscle.
How is chronic myofascial pain diagnosed?
To diagnose chronic myofascial pain, your doctor will ask if you have had a recent injury, where the pain is, how long you have had the pain, what makes it better or worse, and if you have any other symptoms.
The doctor will also give you a physical exam. He or she will press on different areas to see if the pressure causes pain.
You may have tests to see if some other condition is causing your pain.
How is it treated?
Talk to your doctor about the best way to treat your pain. The main treatment may include any of the following:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach you how to change your negative thoughts about pain. This can also help you be more active.
- Cooling spray. This involves using a cooling spray (such as Biofreeze) directly on the skin from the trigger point to the painful area and then gently stretching the muscle. This may be repeated several times.
- Hypnosis. Hypnosis may help you relax and reduce your pain.
- Massage therapy.
- Physical therapy, which may include stretching and strengthening exercises. It may also include counseling about how to change the things that make the pain worse. For example, you may learn how to adjust your workstation, improve your posture, or change your sleep position to avoid muscle tension.
- Trigger point shots (injections). A doctor inserts a needle into the trigger point and injects medicine such as a local anesthetic.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
Your doctor may also recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin. These medicines may help with your symptoms. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
Sometimes doctors prescribe certain antidepressants or muscle relaxants that help relax muscles and relieve sleep problems related to myofascial pain.
Other Works Consulted
- Bennett RM (2016). Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and myofascial pain. In L Goldman, A Shafer, eds., Goldman-Cecil Medicine, 24th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1817–1823. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Childers MK, et al. (2015). Myofascial pain syndrome. In WR Frontera et al., eds., Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 3rd ed., pp. 520–526. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Kay TM, et al. (2005). Exercises for mechanical neck disorders. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).
- Lavelle ED, et al. (2007). Myofascial trigger points. Medical Clinics of North America, 91(2): 229–239.
Current as of: November 20, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Nancy Greenwald MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Current as of: November 20, 2019
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