Myofascial pain is pain that affects the tough tissue surrounding and covering muscles and bone (‘myo’ means muscle and ‘fascia’ means outer surface”). Myofascia is very strong and flexible, but repetitive contraction of the muscles can cause muscle tension, resulting in pain and other symptoms. In some cases, muscle pain may develop into myofascial pain syndrome.
Most people experience muscle pain and tension at some point in life, but myofascial pain syndrome is different to this temporary discomfort. Instead, myofascial pain syndrome involves persistent and/or worsening pain. It typically manifests as a deep, aching pain in the muscle, and may also feel like a tender knot in the muscle.
Myofascial pain syndrome can cause sleep disruption, which further exacerbates pain. It is often triggered by repetitive movements, stress-related muscle tension, and muscle injury. Myofascial pain appears to be a higher risk for people who often feel anxious or stressed. This may be because such stress causes people to clench their muscles, resulting in muscle fatigue and strain.
Treating Myofascial Pain
Learning relaxation techniques may help to relieve myofascial pain and prevent future incidences of muscle pain. Other standard conservative treatments for relieving temporary muscle pain include massage, rest, and cold and warm compresses. Muscle relaxants may also help and can be useful for promoting sleep.
Diagnosing Myofascial Pain Syndrome
If myofascial pain persists or worsens despite standard treatments, this could be a sign of myofascial pain syndrome. It is important to see a physician for a proper diagnosis. The doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist or pain specialist, who will carry out a physical assessment.
During the assessment, your physician or specialist will determine if you have any trigger points. These areas of tight muscle fibers occur after injury or overuse of muscles. In some people, myofascial pain syndrome can develop when muscle fails to heal properly after injury or strain, or where muscle tension persists. Applying pressure to trigger points can sometimes cause referred pain in another area of the body.
Myofascial Pain and Fibromyalgia
Myofascial pain syndrome has been associated with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain. In fibromyalgia, the brain seems to become more sensitive to pain signals. Myofascial pain syndrome is thought to be a potential precursor to fibromyalgia, resulting in muscle pain even when the stimulus is mild. Fibromyalgia can also involve fatigue and cognitive dysfunction.
Treating Myofascial Pain Syndrome
Treatments for myofascial pain syndrome normally include physical therapy and trigger point injections, as well as analgesics (pain medications) and relaxation techniques. Some people find that antidepressant medications are helpful for pain relief, particularly amitriptyline which can help reduce pain and enhance sleep. Sedatives may also be useful for inducing muscle relaxation and sleep. Some sedatives and muscle relaxants can be habit-forming, however, and should be used with caution.
Other lifestyle remedies for muscle pain include eating a healthy diet full of antioxidant-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Reducing intake of inflammatory foods, such as most animal-derived foods and refined sugars, can also help support muscle health. Staying hydrated is important too as dehydrated muscles are more likely to incur injury and tears.
Learning to relax is also key for myofascial pain relief. This might involve meditation, journaling, socializing with close friends and family, or even spending time in a flotation tank.
Statins and Myofascial Pain
It is also helpful to look at any medications you are already taking to see if these may be contributing to your symptoms. For instance, some people taking statins to help manage cholesterol levels experience muscle pain and fatigue. This is because statins can decrease levels of co enzyme Q10, an important antioxidant enzyme that is needed for energy production in the muscles.
Happily, one of the best remedies for high cholesterol also helps with chronic pain. Gentle exercise can help keep muscles healthy while encouraging the release of natural painkillers called endorphins. Walking, swimming, and cycling are all excellent ways to get gentle exercise regularly. If you have myofascial pain syndrome, be sure to consult your physician or physical therapist prior to beginning any new type of exercise.