Myofascial pain syndrome is chronic muscle pain and stiffness throughout the body. The source of the pain is usually a trigger point, a sensitive area of muscles that causes localized pain. The trigger point can refer pain to other parts of the body. Keep reading to learn the causes, treatment options and how to prevent myofascial pain syndrome.

Symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome

Myofascial pain usually affects a specific group of muscles. The pain is often a deep, persistent ache and tightness in the muscle fibers and connective tissue. The pain and tightness in a localized group of muscles is called a trigger point. When you press down on a myofascial trigger point, the pain radiates to other areas.

Active trigger points can be painful at any time. Latent trigger points are only painful when pressed.

The condition usually affects the neck, shoulders, chest and lower back. It causes the muscle to feel tight, develop hard knots or become swollen. Other symptoms can include:

  • Muscle stiffness
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Weak or fatigued muscles
  • Muscle spasms
  • Burning, stinging or stabbing muscle pain
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping

Causes of myofascial pain syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome can develop for different reasons. Some people may be more likely to develop the condition than others. Research has shown that up to 85 percent of patients with muscle pain have myofascial pain syndrome. It is common among people from 27 to 50 years old.

Common causes of myofascial pain syndrome include:

Muscle overuse or repetitive motions

Activities that involve repetitive motions or excessive strain on certain muscles can lead to trigger points. Job-related activities can create tight muscles.

Lack of activity

Not using muscles can also cause pain and tightness. People in recovery who wear a cast or sling may experience muscle tightness or pain.

Poor posture

Maintaining poor posture for extended periods can cause imbalances and excessive stress on certain muscles.

Muscle injury

Acute injuries, such as strains or tears, and chronic conditions like arthritis can contribute to developing trigger points.


Emotional stress, anxiety and tension can cause muscle tightness, leading to trigger points in myofascial pain syndrome.

Other medical conditions

Vitamin deficiencies can lead to muscle weakness and impaired function due to, which can cause chronic pain.

People with fibromyalgia have similar symptoms, but their pain extends beyond their muscles. Some people may have both conditions, but in most cases, the location of the pain can help determine the difference.

Treatment options

Effective management of myofascial pain syndrome should address the underlying causes and aim to alleviate symptoms. Here are a few standard treatment options to relieve symptoms and pain in affected muscles:

  • Physical therapy techniques, such as stretching exercises and massage, can help release muscle tension, improve flexibility and reduce pain.
  • Myofascial cupping releases muscle tension and promotes blood flow.
  • Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) involves manipulating the fascia and muscle tissue to reduce pain and improve mobility by breaking up adhesions, scar tissue and other abnormalities in the soft tissue.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and prescription pain medications can help manage pain and inflammation associated with myofascial pain syndrome.
  • Trigger point injections of anesthetics or corticosteroids may provide temporary pain relief and help break the pain cycle.
  • Dry needling, which involves inserting thin needles into the trigger points can help stimulate muscle relaxation and reduce pain.
  • Heat and cold therapy alleviate muscle pain and reduce inflammation of the affected areas.
  • Relaxation exercises help manage the emotional and physical stress that can come with the condition.

Prevention strategies 

While myofascial pain syndrome can sometimes be difficult to prevent, several strategies can help minimize the risk of developing it.

Practice proper posture and ergonomics during daily activities to help prevent muscle imbalances and reduce stress on muscles. Take regular breaks if work or other activities require repetitive motion. Avoid sitting or standing for long periods. Be sure to rest and stretch your arms and legs to prevent muscle tightness.

Regular exercise and stretching exercises can help maintain muscle flexibility and prevent the formation of trigger points. Exercise can also help reduce stress and relax tight muscles. Pace yourself during physical activities and avoid excessive strain on your muscles. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise to allow your muscles to adapt.

Make sure you are getting enough vitamins in your diet or with supplements. Low vitamin D and B12 can affect blood flow and the amount of oxygen sent to the muscles.

Cary Orthopaedic specialists can help

Myofascial pain syndrome can significantly impact your quality of life. With proper understanding and management, it is possible to address the causes, alleviate symptoms and prevent reoccurrences. You can take control of your myofascial pain syndrome and regain a pain-free and active lifestyle.

If you are experiencing persistent muscle pain and suspect myofascial pain syndrome, consult an orthopedic specialist at one of our locations. We can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop an individualized treatment plan to help you find relief.