What is Myofascial Pain?
The word “myofascial” means muscle tissue (“myo”) and the connective tissue in and around it (“fascia”). Myofascial pain is often caused by muscle injury or repetitive strain. When stressed or injured, muscles often form trigger points, such as contracted knots, that cause pain and tightness.
What are the Causes?
After injuries or overuse, sensitive areas of tight muscle fibers can form in your muscles. These sensitive areas are called trigger points, and a trigger point in a muscle can cause strain and pain throughout the muscle. When this pain persists and worsens, doctors call it myofascial pain syndrome.
What are the Symptoms?
Signs and symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome may include:
- Deep, aching pain in a muscle
- Pain that persists or worsens
- A tender knot in a muscle
- Difficulty sleeping due to pain
When to see a Doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience muscle pain that doesn’t go away. Nearly everyone experiences muscle pain from time to time. But if your muscle pain persists despite rest, massage and similar self-care measures, make an appointment with your doctor.
What are the Treatments?
Treatment for myofascial pain syndrome typically includes medications, trigger point injections or physical therapy. No conclusive evidence supports using one therapy over another. Discuss your options and treatment preferences with your doctor. You may need to try more than one approach to find pain relief.
Medications used for myofascial pain syndrome include:
- Pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may help some people. Or your doctor may prescribe stronger pain relievers. Some are available in patches that you place on your skin.
- Antidepressants. Many types of antidepressants can help relieve pain. For some people with myofascial pain syndrome, amitriptyline appears to reduce pain and improve sleep.
- Sedatives. Clonazepam (Klonopin) helps relax muscles affected by myofascial pain syndrome. It must be used carefully because it can cause sleepiness and can be habit-forming.
A physical therapist can develop a plan to help relieve your pain based on your specific signs and symptoms. Physical therapy to relieve myofascial pain syndrome may involve:
- Stretching. A physical therapist may lead you through gentle stretching exercises to help ease the pain in your affected muscle. If you feel trigger point pain when stretching, the physical therapist may spray a numbing solution on your skin.
- Posture training. Improving your posture can help relieve myofascial pain, particularly in your neck. Exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding your trigger point will help you avoid overworking any one muscle.
- Massage. A physical therapist may massage your affected muscle to help relieve your pain. The physical therapist may use long hand strokes along your muscle or place pressure on specific areas of your muscle to release tension.
- Heat. Applying heat, via a hot pack or a hot shower, can help relieve muscle tension and reduce pain.
- Ultrasound. This type of therapy uses sound waves to increase blood circulation and warmth, which may promote healing in muscles affected by myofascial pain syndrome.
- Needle procedures. Injecting a numbing agent or a steroid into a trigger point can help relieve pain. In some people, just the act of inserting the needle into the trigger point helps break up the muscle tension. Called dry needling, this technique involves inserting a needle into several places in and around the trigger point. Acupuncture also appears to be helpful for some people who have myofascial pain syndrome.