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.

What are the symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome?

The symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome include the following:

  • Deep, aching pain in one or more muscles
  • Trigger points (bumps or knots in the muscle that create local or referred pain when pressure is applied)
  • Pain that does not improve or gradually worsens
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle stiffness or decreased range of motion in the affected area
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety or depression

Myofascial pain syndrome most commonly affects the muscles in the upper back, shoulders, and neck.

What causes myofascial pain syndrome?

The trigger points associated with myofascial pain syndrome occur when several muscle fibers get stuck in the contracted state. This disrupts proper blood flow which prevents the muscle from getting enough oxygen. It also causes waste materials to accumulate in the muscle fibers.

Potential causes of trigger points include the following:

  • Repetitive muscle use (i.e., consistently performing the same movements throughout the day)
  • Muscle injury
  • Stress-related muscle tension
  • Poor posture
  • Lack of activity, especially when an injured joint is immobilized in a cast or brace

What are the risk factors for developing myofascial pain syndrome?

Factors that increase the risk of developing myofascial pain syndrome include the following:

  • Vitamin deficiencies (e.g., low levels of vitamin D or folate)
  • Hormonal changes (e.g., during menopause)
  • Metabolic issues, such as thyroid disease or diabetic neuropathy
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Living or working in a cold environment
  • Inactivity
  • Chronic infections
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
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