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What Is Myofascial Pain?

Often Confused With Fibromyalgia

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Updated June 27, 2014

Myofascial pain is caused by abnormal stress on the muscles. It is a chronic condition that affects the fascia (connective tissue that covers the muscles). Myofascial pain syndrome can be confused with fibromyalgia and may also accompany it. Unlike fibromyalgia, myofascial pain tends to occur in trigger points, as opposed to tender points, and typically there is no widespread, generalized pain, according to A.D.A.M.

Muscles Affected by Myofascial Pain

Myofascial pain is often caused by tension, spasm, or fatigue of the muscles that allow a person to chew, called the masticatory muscles. Grinding of the teeth and jaw clenching are related to myofascial pain and can lead to headaches.

It is common for myofascial pain to limit jaw movement and to affect muscles in the neck, back, and shoulder. Actually, myofascial pain can affect any skeletal muscle in the body. It is not limited to the muscles of mastication (chewing).

Diagnosing Myofascial Pain

Myofascial pain is diagnosed after a physical examination reveals trigger points. Locating the trigger points is important to the diagnostician. X-rays are not helpful in diagnosing myofascial pain. Onset of myofascial pain can be acute following injury or chronic following poor posture or overuse of the muscles.

Myofascial pain is a common condition. Considering that 14.4% of the general U.S. population have chronic musculoskeletal pain, it has been estimated that 21% to 93% of patients complaining of regional pain actually have myofascial pain.

Treatment of Myofascial Pain

Myofascial pain is not considered fatal but it can significantly affect quality of life. Treatment is important and can include:

  • mouth guards to prevent clenching of teeth
  • splints, braces, or slings
  • medications including sleep aids, NSAIDs, Tylenol
  • botox injections to relieve muscle spasm

Physical therapy, relaxation, and biofeedback can also be helpful modes of treatment for myofascial pain. Interestingly, even if untreated, most myofascial pain syndrome patients stop having symptoms in 2 or 3 years.

Sources:

Myofascial Pain. Disease Center. Arthritis Foundation. Accessed 12/4/2007.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome. Merck Manual. November 2005.
http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec08/ch097/ch097g.html

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