What is myofascial pain?
Myofascial pain literally means pain coming from the muscles (myo is the Latin term for muscle) and the fascia (the thin tissue that covers muscles). Myofascial pain is probably one of the least understood and most frequently misdiagnosed types of pain. It is also one of the most common sources of pain and results in a huge number of GP consultations, days lost from work, and missed sports activities.
The symptoms of myofascial pain can vary depending on the location and severity of the problem. People suffering from myofascial pain often report deep aching pain which can be either constant or intermittent. Usually, it is triggered by the use of the affected muscle or muscle group. This can be accompanied by burning or stabbing pain, weakness, tingling, increased or decreased sweating, stiffness, sleep difficulties, or dizziness. Myofascial pain can also be irritated by sustained sitting or standing positions, repetitive activities such as typing or working a press, cold or damp weather, exposure to a cold draught, or psychological stress.
About Trigger points
There are over 600 skeletal muscles in the human body, and any one of these can develop to what is called a myofascial trigger point (TrP). Trigger points are “nervous hot spots” which cause muscles to become abnormally sensitive. This nervous excitability results in the development of tight bands of muscle or fascia that, when pressed, cause local pain, as well as referred pain to somewhere else in the body.
This referred pain is very important and if the doctor is familiar with trigger points, he will very quickly be able to diagnose the problem, as each muscle group has its own pattern of pain referral. If the doctor knows these patterns, he will be able to discover very rapidly the nature of the problem and offer solutions.
There are some fundamental and important features of TrP’s, these are:
Trigger points are essentially areas of nervous excitability within the muscle and they may exist in two different states:
A latent trigger point does not cause pain at rest but may restrict movement or cause muscle weakness. The patient presenting with muscle restrictions or weakness may become aware of pain originating from a latent trigger point only when pressure is applied directly over the point.
An active trigger point does cause pain at rest. It is tender to palpation with a referred pain pattern that is similar to the patient’s pain complaint. This referred pain is felt not at the site of the trigger-point origin, but remote from it. The pain is often described as spreading or radiating.
Causes of trigger points
The TrPs of myofascial pain may occur for many different reasons, however, the most common reasons are injury or trauma to the muscle and acute or chronic overuse causing muscle damage or dysfunction. Overload occurs when a muscle is being used in an improper way, causing stress on the muscle fibres. These muscles will often respond by developing Trigger points. If this problem remains untreated for a period of time, compensation in multiple areas of the body can occur, making the problem more widespread and complicated. When this occurs, it is may be referred to as myofascial pain syndrome.
Treatment of trigger points
The most important way of treating trigger points is threefold;
Stimulation, stimulation, and stimulation!
Trigger points need to be stimulated to be cured. This stimulation may be in one of many different ways, however the most important is by stretching the affected muscle group. The stretching of the muscle may be very painful indeed, in fact, it is often too painful to be able to stretch the muscle to any meaningful degree. This is where acupuncture becomes vital in the rehabilitation of trigger point problems.
The needle causes immediate relaxation of the muscle being treated due to the effect of the micro-trauma on the release of the neurophysiological effects suppressing the overstimulation of the muscle. This relaxation will then reduce a degree of the muscle spasm and consequently allow further stretching of the affected muscle group.
Acupuncture for the treatment of myofascial pain has been used for at least 50 years in the Western Medical setting. In skilled hands, it is safe, effective and frequently provides long-lasting relief of pain. This has been predominantly applied by members of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapist – a society of British Physiotherapists who have an interest in acupuncture. The society now includes around 6,000 members, most of whom practice Western Medical Acupuncture. Acupuncture has a number of local effects and general effects, many of which have been studied in great detail.
“Acupuncture is not the treatment, it is only part of the treatment”.
Specific stretching exercises are required for long-term rehabilitation of myofascial pain, however, the treatment course can be rapidly accelerated by the incorporation of acupuncture in the rehabilitation. There are also many other ways of treating trigger points, other methods of trigger point stimulation include;
Deep tissue massage using firm hand pressure
This is not a complete list as there are a number of other techniques that can be applied.
Treatment of MTrP leads to:
Further clinical research is being conducted in the field of pain, both in terms of investigating the mechanisms by which pain is experienced and in examining different treatment options. This makes the area of pain research an exciting and stimulating scientific topic with the potential to ease many people’s suffering.
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