What is Myofascial Pain Syndrome – Body Aches?
When the fascia is injured as a result of direct trauma or repetitive muscle injury, it can contract and tighten. The contracted fascia presses down on the underlying nerves, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. This painful pressure results in chronic myofascial pain (CMP) or myofascial pain syndrome, or to tha lay horrible body aches. There is some debate on whether this is a syndrome or an actual disease. Thus, both these terms can be used to describe this condition.
Fascia is the strong, elastic, connective tissue spread throughout the body that covers all our muscles, tendons, cartilage and ligaments, and provides a mesh-like support to the muscles and other soft tissues. The fascia is actually a thick, collagenous material that allows the musculoskeletal system to move in a coordinated fashion.
- body aches,
- muscle knots and
- muscle pains.
Also known as chronic myofascial pain (CMP), it is a chronic condition that affects the entire musculoskeletal system.
This condition occurs when there is an injury or damage to the fascia.
Myofascial pain syndrome is characterized by the presence of extremely sensitive spots, called ‘trigger points’. Even slight pressure on a trigger point can cause severe pain in the region. As the fascia is a continuous layer over the whole body, pain in ‘trigger points’ of the fascia may often cause pain throughout the body. In fact, CMP often presents as persistent pain in large areas of the musculoskeletal system, thus causing severe body aches. CMP can occur at any part of the fascia, and produce one or more trigger points. Trigger points can be either ‘active’ (which are always painful to the touch) or ‘latent’ (which become painful only when the relevant muscle is activated by strain, injury or fatigue). If left untreated, over time, myofascial pain syndrome can develop into the more serious condition of fibromyalgia.
Causes Myofascial Pain Syndrome
Direct injury to the muscle, severe muscle tension, continuous muscle stress, or repetitive use of one group of muscles are factors that may injure the fascia. Other factors that strain groups of muscles, such as standing or sitting with poor posture, experiencing direct trauma to the trigger points, or having one leg longer than the other, can also lead to CMP.
Both men and women are equally likely to contract myofascial pain syndrome, and this condition is often observed in persons between the age 30 and 60. Obesity, stress, fatigue and depression can increase the chances of developing CMP or can worsen the existing condition.
Symptoms and diagnosis
The main symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome are severe body ache, and isolated trigger points which are extremely sensitive. Muscle knots and over-tight muscle groups are common. The muscle knots are often tender and painful to the touch.
The pain associated with this condition is usually felt radiating from deep within the muscle. The patient may also feel muscle weakness, stiffness and overall fatigue. Some patients have difficulty in sleeping due to the deep aching pain. When the nerves are compressed by the fascia, some tingling and numbness may also be observed. The pain from this condition does not usually resolve over time, but instead turns into a persistent chronic pain.
The condition is usually diagnosed through a careful physical examination.
Pain medications, physical therapy, lifestyle changes (stress relief, exercise), and trigger point injections are some common treatment options for CMP. The treatments are mostly based on managing the pain and/or minimizing muscle tension or stress, as the fascia and the injured muscles do not heal rapidly on their own.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and injections of local anesthetics directly to the source of pain (trigger point injections) are often essential. Massage therapy administered by registered therapist can also help to loosen muscle knots and relieve some pain.
Physical therapy is often required to stretch and strengthen the muscles, and to improve over-all posture. Managing body weight, regular exercise and stress management are also recommended to patients suffering from myofascial pain syndrome.