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What is myofascial pain syndrome?

Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic condition that arises from inflammation in your muscles and fascia (the thin, connective tissue that surrounds your muscles). “Myo” means muscle and “fascial” means fascia.

If your body was an orange, your skin would be the outside orange peel, your muscles would be the fleshy orange fruit itself and the thin white membrane surrounding each orange segment would be the fascia. Fascia surrounds every level of muscle tissue — muscle fibers, single muscles and muscle groups.

For most people, myofascial pain occurs in one specific area. But in some cases, it can affect multiple areas (but is usually on the same side of your body).

 

How common is myofascial pain syndrome?

Myofascial pain syndrome is common. Experts estimate that up to 85% of the general population will develop the condition at some point.

 

Symptoms and Causes

What does myofascial pain syndrome feel like?

Symptoms are different for each person with myofascial pain syndrome. Sometimes the pain happens suddenly and all at once. At other times it’s a constant, dull pain that sort of lingers in the background.

Myofascial pain syndrome symptoms include:

  • Pain that’s aching, throbbing, tight, stiff or vice-like.
  • Trigger points (small bumps, nodules or knots in your muscle that cause pain when touched and sometimes when they’re not touched). These commonly develop as the condition worsens.
  • Sore, tender muscles.
  • Weak muscles.
  • Reduced range of motion. (For example, you might not be able to completely rotate your shoulder.)

Sometimes, people with myofascial pain syndrome have other health conditions, too. Common issues include:

  • Headaches.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Stress.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Feeling tired (fatigue).

 

Types of myofascial trigger points

There are four types of trigger points:

  • An active trigger point typically lies within a muscle. Applied pressure results in pain at the site of the trigger point or along that same muscle.
  • latent trigger point is inactive (dormant) but could become active.
  • secondary trigger point is a knot in a muscle other than the one with the active trigger point. An active trigger point and secondary trigger point can become irritated at the same time.
  • satellite trigger point is one that becomes inactive because it overlaps with the region of another trigger point.

 

What causes myofascial pain syndrome?

Experts are still learning why some people are more prone to myofascial pain.

Some of the most common causes seem to include:

  • Muscle injury.
  • Repetitive motions (like hammering).
  • Poor posture.

Risk factors that might contribute to the development of myofascial pain syndrome include:

  • Muscle weakness.
  • Lack of muscle activity (like having your leg in a cast).
  • Working in or living in a cold environment.
  • Emotional stress (can cause muscle tension).
  • Pinched nerves.
  • Metabolic or hormonal issues like thyroid disease or diabetes-related neuropathy.
  • Vitamin deficiencies, including vitamin D and folate.
  • Chronic infections.

 

Remedial massage and myofascial pain syndrome

Massage therapy has proven to be very effective when it comes to alleviating the symptoms associated with myofascial pain syndrome. Remedial massage, in particular, has been cited as a useful modality for myofascial pain. Specifically, trigger point pressure release techniques used in remedial massage therapy help eliminate trigger points or knots in the muscle tissue. The pressure applied promotes healing through the warming of the area, as well as releasing any stuck tissues. As a result, massage can decrease pain and improve overall function. Research has further found that trigger point therapy is particularly useful for tension points in the head and neck, reducing headaches and migraines.

In addition, remedial massage therapy can help you relax and de-stress. It can be part of your regular self-care routine. Consequently, it may help reduce incidences of chronic stress and offer an outlet for you to unwind. This is especially important when it comes to myofascial pain syndrome, since stress may cause this condition or cause it to worsen. If you regularly experience myofascial pain, using regular relaxation techniques can help decrease flare-ups or incidents of it.

If you’re experiencing myofascial pain syndrome, your massage therapist will likely use a form of trigger point release, combined with deep pressure techniques. The goal is to help release the tight spots in the muscles and help you gain better function and an improved quality of life. Consider choosing remedial massage therapy as part of your multidisciplinary treatment plan to help you get back to the activities you know and love.

 

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