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What’s Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

The medical term ‘Myofascial Pain Syndrome’ refers to a chronic pain condition affecting the muscles and fascia of an individual. The fascia refers to a layer of loose connective tissue surrounding all muscles in the human body. Myofascial pain usually occurs due to motions that cause certain muscle groups to contract repetitively and may bring about sensitive points in the body known as trigger points. People with myofascial pain often experience referred pain and tenderness in unrelated parts of the body when the trigger points undergo pressure. 

Myofascial pain syndrome may sometimes look similar to fibromyalgia but it affects a specific area or muscle group in the body whereas fibromyalgia pain tends to affect the entire body. The most commonly affected muscles include those in the back, neck, and shoulders. Myofascial pain equally affects both men and women although it occurs more in middle-aged women. 

What’s the Symptoms of Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

The symptoms of myofascial pain and the trigger points may differ for each individual. The most common symptoms of this condition may include:

  • Presence of tender or painful knots in a muscle that causes pain when touched
  • Persistent muscle pain that fails to improve with time
  • Deep, aching pain in a muscle or group of muscles that worsens when stretched
  • Decreased range of motion in the affected parts of the body
  • Sudden muscle stiffness or weakness
  • Sleep disturbances due to muscle pain

What’s the Causes and Risk Factors of Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

Myofascial pain and its trigger points typically develop due to prolonged repetitive movements and overuse of a specific group of muscles. Other factors that can cause myofascial pain include:

How do Specialists Diagnose Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

To accurately diagnose myofascial pain syndrome, a specialist will conduct a physical examination to locate the trigger points. The specialist will feel for tender nodes in the muscles and apply pressure to the points to determine whether the patient feels pain at the trigger point or in a different part of the body (referred pain). 

A specialist may find several types of myofascial trigger points during the diagnosis. These trigger points include:

Active trigger points

These trigger points typically develop as nodes within the muscle and can cause localized or referred pain when applied pressure to

Latent trigger points

These trigger points occur as dormant nodes that possess the ability to turn active when stressed

Secondary trigger points

Secondary trigger points typically develop in a muscle different from the active trigger point. This point can also cause pain at the same time as the active trigger point.

Satellite trigger points

These trigger points develop in response to the referred pain caused by an active trigger point

How do Specialists treat Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

Treatment for myofascial pain syndrome usually involves a combination of non-surgical treatment options to relieve muscle pain and stiffness. These treatment options may include:

  • Physical therapy to strengthen the affected muscles and relax the trigger points
  • Prescription medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants to relieve pain and reduce inflammation
  • Spray and stretch which involves spraying a trigger point with muscle coolant before stretching it out
  • Dry needling and trigger point injections to decrease tightness and relieve pain
  • Ultrasound therapy to relax the affected muscles and improve blood flow

What’s the Complications of Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

Myofascial pain syndrome can greatly limit the number of activities an individual can perform and may also cause sleep deprivation due to muscle pain. In some severe cases, myofascial pain may develop into fibromyalgia leading to widespread pain across the body.


Chandola HC, et al. (2009). Fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome-A dilemma.

Shah JP, et al. (2015). Myofascial trigger points then and now: A historical and scientific perspective.

Jafri MS. (2014). Mechanisms of myofascial pain.

Frontera WR, et al. Myofascial pain syndrome. In: Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2015.

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