Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic condition that affects your muscles and the fascia (thin connective tissue) around them. With myofascial pain syndrome, pressing on trigger points (knots) in your muscle causes localized or referred pain. Some people confuse myofascial pain syndrome with fibromyalgia, but they’re two different conditions.
Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic condition that arises from inflammation in your muscles and fascia (the thin, connective tissue that surrounds your muscles). “Myo” means muscle and “fascial” means fascia.
If your body was an orange, your skin would be the outside orange peel, your muscles would be the fleshy orange fruit itself and the thin white membrane surrounding each orange segment would be the fascia. Fascia surrounds every level of muscle tissue — muscle fibers, single muscles and muscle groups.
For most people, myofascial pain occurs in one specific area. But in some cases, it can affect multiple areas (but is usually on the same side of your body).
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Myofascial pain syndrome is common. Experts estimate that up to 85% of the general population will develop the condition at some point.
Symptoms are different for each person with myofascial pain syndrome. Sometimes the pain happens suddenly and all at once. At other times it’s a constant, dull pain that sort of lingers in the background.
Myofascial pain syndrome symptoms include:
Sometimes, people with myofascial pain syndrome have other health conditions, too. Common issues include:
There are four types of trigger points:
Experts are still learning why some people are more prone to myofascial pain.
Some of the most common causes seem to include:
Risk factors that might contribute to the development of myofascial pain syndrome include:
Myofascial pain syndrome is often underdiagnosed and overlooked. This is because many of its symptoms overlap with other conditions that affect your nerves, bones, ligaments or tendons.
To diagnose myofascial pain syndrome, your healthcare provider will need to physically examine your muscles — to feel for taut bands of muscles and then find the tender spots. Finding and applying pressure to a trigger point will result in pain, felt at the immediate spot or in an area a short distance away (referred pain).
Currently, there are no tests that can diagnose myofascial pain syndrome. There are also no visible signs like redness, swelling or unusual muscle warmth.
Your healthcare provider may recommend tests to rule out other conditions. They may also ask you questions about your symptoms, including:
Your healthcare provider may check your gait (how you walk) and your posture to see if there’s a balance of muscle use and look for signs of muscle weakness. They may also ask you about other health problems that can contribute to myofascial pain syndrome — including how much and how well you sleep and if you feel stressed, anxious or depressed.
There are several myofascial pain syndrome treatments available. These include:
If you have myofascial pain syndrome symptoms, it’s best to see a healthcare provider early on — before your pain gets worse. Treatment is often more successful if you start it before trigger points form.
Your provider will likely recommend a combination of these treatments:
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe myofascial pain syndrome medications, which may include:
You can also try things at home to relieve your symptoms, including:
There are a few types of providers who can treat myofascial pain syndrome, including:
You can’t always prevent myofascial pain syndrome. But there are certain things you can do to reduce your risk:
Certain foods cause inflammation, and inflammation increases myofascial pain. Some foods to avoid include:
Check your cupboards and your fridge. Empty them of any foods that’ll increase your myofascial pain syndrome symptoms. It’s OK if you can’t do this all at once. Try removing one type of food at a time and go at a pace that’s comfortable for you.
Each person’s pain — including its location and severity — is unique. Pain can flare up from time to time or be ongoing and long lasting. Successful treatment usually requires finding healthcare providers you’re comfortable with and following their management plan.
The duration of myofascial pain syndrome varies from person to person. With treatment, it may go away after a day or a few weeks, but it can take longer for some.
Living with myofascial pain syndrome is uncomfortable at best, unbearable at worst. Take care of yourself by following your healthcare provider’s treatment plan and using at-home remedies. Try things like exercise, diet changes, soaks in warm water, massages, etc. You’ll likely have to experiment to figure out what treatments work best to reduce your pain.
If you have pain in a specific area that doesn’t go away, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider (preferably before you develop trigger points). Your provider can run tests to rule out other conditions and come up with a plan that works for you.
Here are some questions you might want to ask your provider during your appointment:
Myofascial pain and fibromyalgia pain feel similar. Both have trigger points that cause pain. But these are different conditions.
While myofascial pain occurs in one specific area (or, if more than one area, those areas are typically on the same side of your body), fibromyalgia pain occurs throughout your entire body. People with fibromyalgia are more likely to have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Everyone experiences pain during their lifetime. But when that pain is unbearable or long-lasting, it’s time to seek help from a healthcare provider. Fortunately, you can reduce or eliminate most pain — including myofascial pain — with the right treatment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/13/2023.
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