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Myofascial pain syndrome

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jan 5, 2024.

Overview

Myofascial pain syndrome is a long-term pain condition. It involves some muscles and the thin cover of tissue that holds muscles in place, called fascia. Pressure on these areas, called trigger points, causes pain.

Sometimes, the pain is felt in other parts of the body. This is called referred pain. The pain often is felt as shoulder pain, back pain, tension headaches and face pain.

This syndrome can happen after a muscle has been tensed over and over. Repeated motions used in jobs or hobbies can be the cause. So can stress-related muscle tension, poor posture and weak muscles. In some cases, the cause of myofascial pain is unknown.

Almost everyone has felt muscle tension pain. But the pain of myofascial pain syndrome doesn't go away. Treatment options include exercise, massage, physical therapy and shots in the trigger points. Pain medicines and finding ways to relax also can help.

Symptoms

Symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome may include:

When to see a doctor

Most people have muscle pain at times. But if your muscle pain doesn't go away with rest, massage and other self-care measures, make an appointment with your healthcare professional.

Causes

The exact cause of myofascial pain syndrome is not known. Areas of tight muscle fibers, called trigger points, form in muscles. Too much use of the muscles, most often with poor form, injury to the muscle and mental stress likely help cause trigger points.

Risk factors

In myofascial pain syndrome, something such as muscle tightness sets off trigger points in the muscles. Factors that may increase the risk of muscle trigger points include:

Complications

Complications linked to myofascial pain syndrome include:

Diagnosis

During a physical exam, your healthcare professional may put gentle finger pressure on the affected muscle, feeling for painful areas. Certain ways of pressing on the trigger point can cause certain responses. For instance, you might have a muscle twitch.

Muscle pain has many possible causes. Your healthcare professional uses other tests and procedures to rule out other causes of muscle pain.

Treatment

Treatment for myofascial pain syndrome typically includes medicines, shots into the trigger points and physical therapy. Exercise is a big part of any treatment plan.

Discuss treatment options and what you prefer with your healthcare professional. You may need to try more than one approach to find pain relief.

Medications

Medicines used for myofascial pain syndrome include:

Therapy

A physical therapist can help relieve your pain based on your symptoms. Treatment might involve:

Procedures

Lifestyle and home remedies

Keeping your body healthy may make it easier for you to cope with your pain. Try to:

Coping and support

Having a long-term pain condition such as myofascial pain syndrome can be upsetting. It may help to talk to a counselor about what you're facing. Online or in-person support groups also can be helpful. They can link you to people who know what you're going through.

Preparing for an appointment

The symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome are like those of other disorders. So you may see more than one healthcare professional before getting a diagnosis.

What you can do

You're likely to start with a visit to your primary healthcare professional. You might then be sent to a specialist in muscle and joint conditions, called a rheumatologist.

Here are some things you can do to get ready for your appointment.

Make a list of:

For myofascial pain syndrome, some basic questions to ask include:

What to expect from your doctor

Your healthcare professional is likely to ask you questions, such as:

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