The muscles of the human body are more complex than just muscle tissue connected to bone. There are also many other tissues like tendons, ligaments, and fascia. The fascia is a thin layer of tissue that lubricates and protects muscles. It also contains nerve endings, so it can become torn or have other issues that cause pain. Myofascial pain can be difficult to diagnose and is sometimes confused with fibromyalgia, but they are not the same. People of all ages and health situations can experience myofascial pain.
Cause of Myofascial Pain
The muscles and fascia of the body are deeply interconnected and have a lot of nerve endings. Sometimes, the muscle tissue and fascial tissue can develop into knots or bands that are called pressure points. These pressure points can create severe pain that radiates, sometimes to seemingly completely separate parts of the body. This is due to the nerves getting restricted, and in many cases blood flow is also being cut off in those areas. Myofascial pain happens when the pressure points of the musculoskeletal system are causing radiating pain to other parts of the body. This can happen to any person at any time, but it is commonly caused by strain or injury to a muscle. It can also be caused by poor posture, a pinched nerve, muscle weakness, severe cold, and even emotional stress or vitamin deficiency.
Symptoms of Myofascial Pain
There are several symptoms of myofascial pain that vary in severity from person to person. Many people experience deep muscular pain after an injury that seems as though it should have gone away after a certain amount of time. Others can feel an actual knot under the skin in the muscle tissues that may be tender. Some people have pain that worsens over time in a certain area. Still others may have difficulty sleeping, fatigue, headaches, and higher levels of stress, anxiety, or depression. These are all difficult symptoms to live with, especially for those who work in highly physical jobs or stressful work situations.
It is estimated that up to 85% of people have had myofascial pain at least once in their lifetime, but many people do not go to the doctor and get a diagnosis unless it worsens and affects them long term. Myofascial pain may be easily mistaken for other conditions like fibromyalgia, ligament and tendon pain, or bone pain. The only current way to diagnose myofascial pain is through a physical exam. The doctor may press on the muscles and feel for any knots or areas of tension. They may also recommend bloodwork or other tests to rule out other issues.
Treatments for Myofascial Pain
There are several treatments available for this type of pain that vary depending on the original cause as well as the area that is affected. A common treatment that helps with the pain, swelling, and inflammation is the use of over-the-counter pain medicine, or NSAIDs. These medicines like ibuprofen and tylenol can be very effective in treating mild myofascial pain. For other patients, physical therapy can be helpful due to the stretching and rebuilding of the affected muscle. Heat and massage have also been helpful to let the muscles relax and return to normal, especially in early or more mild cases. Acupuncture or dry needling is a less common but somewhat effective treatment, as well as trigger point injections. Trigger point injections are done with a mixture of steroids and numbing agent which is injected directly into the affected area. This can be done once or multiple times depending on the location and severity of the pain. Most doctors who perform trigger point injections will have the patient back several times to allow the muscles time to heal while still treating the actual pain itself.
Pain management in general is one of the most difficult parts of medicine. Pain is complex and can be caused by so many different things. Myofascial pain in particular may be difficult to diagnose for many clinicians, but for doctors who specialize in pain management, it is much easier to find and treat. If you are experiencing severe or chronic pain, don’t wait for it to get worse. Schedule a consultation so that you can begin to experience pain relief and start to heal. Quality of life is important, and many patients can start to feel relief after even one form of treatment. Remember to take care of your body, and you will find that it will respond well.