Diagnosing Myofascial Pain Syndrome


What is myofascial pain syndrome?

Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic pain condition in which sensitive knots (trigger points) develop in one or more muscles. Pain is felt when pressure is applied to these trigger points. The pain is often felt at the trigger point; however, it can also be felt elsewhere in the body when pressure is applied to the trigger point, which is called referred pain. The pain associated with myofascial pain syndrome lasts longer than typical muscle soreness.

Diagnostic process

There is not a definitive diagnostic medical test for myofascial pain syndrome. The syndrome is commonly mistaken for other issues with the musculoskeletal system, such as problems with the muscles, tendons, ligaments, or bones. Therefore, myofascial pain syndrome is often overlooked and underdiagnosed.

A diagnosis of myofascial pain syndrome is primarily made based on medical history and physical examination. Questions regarding where and when the pain occurs, how long it has been present, and what makes it better or worse are usually asked at the beginning of the diagnostic process. Inquiries about any recent injuries or any activities that may have caused repetitive muscle tension or strain are also made.

A physical exam includes observation of posture and gait to check for any muscle imbalances or weakness. To rule out other health conditions, blood tests, X-rays, or other diagnostic tests may be ordered.

The most effective diagnostic tool for myofascial pain syndrome is rather simple. A health care professional uses their fingers to apply gentle pressure to the muscles in the affected area, feeling for any lumps or trigger points. If applying pressure to a trigger point causes localized pain, referred pain elsewhere in the body, or muscle twitching, myofascial pain syndrome may be diagnosed.

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