Is it just Muscle Pain? - A Look into Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Disclaimer: 
This article is for informational purposes only. For medical advice, please consult with a licensed & certified medical professional.

Are you constantly under stress, work or home related, perform heavy-duty labor, or play sports? Have you been feeling aches, pain, or tightness? If so, you may be at risk of myofascial pain syndrome. This is a condition in which pressure on your muscles causes pain to the touch, which can possibly spread to unrelated parts of your body (1). Causes include stress, overuse of a muscle by repetitive motion, bad posture, and/or poor technique while exercising (1). Now, at first it might seem alarming, because this sounds as though it can happen easily to anyone. But while it is true that anyone can have myofascial pain syndrome, as nearly everyone experiences muscle pain at some point, that doesn’t mean your muscle pain will become chronic. In fact, it is only more likely to occur if you ignore treating the affected area, or if you are constantly put in situations that put your muscles at constant risk.

Until treated, myofascial pain syndrome can be debilitating and result in severe consequences, such as lowering quality of life. Common symptoms are knots forming in the muscle, aching pain in muscles, inability for complete motion, and difficulty sleeping (1). Often patients have difficulty sleeping, mostly because they are not able to get in a comfortable enough position to rest. Adding to the fact that this condition may become chronic, these symptoms can take quite a toll on the mind and body, sometimes even leading to depression. Think of it like this: you are constantly aching and have a limited range of motion; the pain at an instant may be bearable but will be felt throughout the day and continue daily. It is not surprising, then, why some feel so distraught when such a condition persists. So, the next time you experience muscle pain, don’t think of it as it’s just a muscle, and that it will go away in a day or two, because that persistent pain could become something much worse.

The good news about myofascial pain syndrome is that it can be easily diagnosed and treated. The symptoms of this condition are common and easily identifiable by physicians. To confirm this, the physician will perform a thorough physical exam, testing strength and range of motion (1). They will also feel muscles to see how the muscle responds to touch (1). Once diagnosed, the physician will recommend physical therapy and number of short-term relief options.

It’s comforting to know that this condition can be treated effectively, but it may require physical therapy (3). Now, this can be daunting for people that do not want to attend physical therapy sessions, but it’s helpful in ameliorating symptoms and preventing exacerbation of injury. For physical therapy, you will probably have a number of sessions during the week and continue to do so for a month or two. The physical therapist will show you techniques that will help build muscle strength, provide stretching and relaxation to the muscle itself. The pain should decrease with time, and you can prevent future strains by continuing home exercises even after finishing the physical therapy program.

There are number of procedures that can alleviate the pain from this condition. Trigger point injections and muscle relaxers, for example. When trigger points are located, the affected area is cleansed with alcohol and numbed by coolant spray, and a local anesthetic is used (2). Trigger point injections involve placing a needle through multiple planes within the taut muscle to help the muscle relax. This is known as called “needling” of the muscle. For those with a fear of needles, the thought of a needle moving within the muscle sounds intimidating, but it’s done quickly, safe, and painless. In fact, the pain relief is almost immediate and the feeling of tightness is virtually eliminated. The patient is encouraged to continue performing daily home exercises and applying a moist warm compress to the affected area when necessary to avoid increasing muscle tightness. Another option is taking muscle relaxers, such as Flexeril or Lorzone, normally taken at bedtime as they tend to cause drowsiness (3). Since myofascial pain syndrome often negatively impacts the patient’s sleep, medicine might allow them to be rested and have a more optimistic outlook towards the day. When one option works for you or a combination, you can rest assured that the management of your pain is a possibility.

As previously mentioned, muscle pain can happen to anyone at any time. However, there are precautions that might help reduce the chance of it occurring. You should have a healthy diet, reduce your body weight, and exercise regularly (1). For those in stressful conditions, learn stress management techniques (3). Also, it is wise to maintain proper posture, especially when exercising. We should always use proper lifting techniques when performing manual labor. Athletes should also stretch prior to practice sessions and games. If these steps are taken, the possibility of muscle pain is low and more likely to occur by chance occurrence, like an accident.

So, all in all, myofascial pain syndrome sounds like a pain and something that you wouldn’t want to deal with. Chronic pain, lack of sleep and complete motion of limbs aren’t trivial things. However, the with key lifestyle changes, the problem might not be yours to bear. And if you do suffer from the illness, you can remain hopeful about the many treatment and pain management options available to you.

 

References

  1. Staff, By Mayo Clinic. "Myofascial Pain Syndrome." - Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/myofascial-pain-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20033195>.
  2. Kishner, Stephen, MD, MHA. "Trigger Point Injection." : Overview, Periprocedural Care, Technique. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1997731-overview>.
  3. William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR. "Myofascial Pain Syndrome Treatment, Symptoms & Prognosis." MedicineNet. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://www.medicinenet.com/muscle_pain/article.htm>.