Myofascial pain syndrome is a common condition, with around three million Americans being diagnosed each year. It involves chronic pain in trigger points in the muscle tissue, and is usually diagnosed based on reported symptoms rather than physical tests (like blood tests or scans). Therefore, it can be helpful to both the doctor and patient to identify the causes behind the muscle pain. Sometimes a cause cannot be determined, and medical research still has a long way to go in understanding why this syndrome occurs. However, many potential causes have been identified.
Injuring a muscle can create an area of extremely sensitive muscle tissue known as a trigger point. The muscle fibers become too tight and form chronic knots, which often leads to pain. If this goes on for quite a long time, it can warrant a diagnosis of myofascial pain syndrome. A muscle injury can occur in virtually any part of the body. For example, it can be caused by pulling a muscle during daily activities or by lifting weights with improper form. It can also result from an accident. Any long-term pain in a muscle should be investigated by a doctor, especially if there was a known injury in the area. Bad posture or failure to properly rehabilitate an injured muscle can increase the risk of developing chronic myofascial pain.
Stress can increase the risk of myofascial pain syndrome. When individuals feel anxious, they tend to tense their muscles more than usual and often do not even realize they are tensing up, and even if they do recognize this behavior in themselves, they may still find it difficult to relax. When a muscle gets tensed over and over again, trigger points can develop there because the muscle is being overused. It is important for individuals to try alleviating stressful situations in their lives as much as possible to avoid developing these trigger points. Techniques such as deep breathing and stretching are also helpful to some individuals; it reminds them to relax their muscles and let go of the tenseness they are holding.
Anxiety disorders can also cause individuals to tense their muscles excessively. This is a widespread chronic condition, and it can lead to secondary problems like myofascial pain syndrome if it goes untreated. Fortunately, therapy is a helpful option for many patients. Physical activity, especially gentle activities such as yoga, can also be helpful. Despite the availability of these treatment options, including some specific medicines, many individuals go years without seeing a doctor about their symptoms and end up with chronic myofascial pain. This is much more difficult to treat.
Tightness in the muscles appears to be one of the primary causes of myofascial pain syndrome. Tightness can be caused by either overuse or underuse of a muscle. For example, if a muscle is contracted too often without being stretched, it can become too tight. On the flip side, if a muscle is kept in the same position for too long, it can become too tight. Sometimes this happens when someone injures a body part and has to keep it in a cast for a prolonged period. Stretching and massage therapy can improve muscle tightness before chronic myofascial pain develops.
Fibromyalgia, a common chronic pain disorder, is thought to cause myofascial pain syndrome and vice versa, though medical researchers do not fully understand the link. This condition, like myofascial pain syndrome, involves chronic pain. Patients with fibromyalgia tend to be more sensitive to pain, and this may make them more susceptible to developing painful trigger points in the muscles. It is also linked to increased stress and trauma, which can cause muscle tenseness. This, in turn, leads to chronic myofascial pain. Individuals with this disorder who develop myofascial pain syndrome may have more widespread pain than others with myofascial pain. This is because fibromyalgia typically affects tissue all over the body, whereas myofascial pain syndrome can be confined to one or a few muscles.