Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Your pain is caused by a state of chronic muscle tension. This condition is called by various names: myofascial pain, fibrositis, and trigger point pain. This can also be due to mechanical stress, such as working at a computer terminal for long periods or work that requires repetitive motions of the arms or hands. It can also be caused by emotional stress, such as problems on the job or in your personal life. Sometimes there is no obvious cause. The pain can happen in the area of the muscle spasm or at a site distant to it. For example, spasm of a neck muscle can cause headache. Spasm of the muscle near the shoulder blade can cause pain shooting down the arm.

Home care

  • Try to identify the factors that may be causing your problem and change them:

    • If you feel that emotional stress is a cause of your pain, learn methods to better deal with the stress in your life. These may include regular exercise, muscle relaxation techniques, meditation, or simply taking time out for yourself. Talk with your healthcare provider or go to a local bookstore and review the many books and tapes about reducing stress.

    • If you feel that physical stress is a cause for your pain, try to change any poor work habits.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. Talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease. Also talk with your provider if you've ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, or take a blood thinner.

  • Apply an ice pack over the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every 3 to 6 hours. You should do this for the first 24 to 48 hours. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes infill a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag with a thin towel before using. Be careful not to injure your skin with the ice treatments. Don't apply ice directly to your skin. Keep using ice packs to ease pain and swelling as needed. After 48 hours, apply heat (warm shower or warm bath) for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day. Or alternate ice and heat.

  • Massage the trigger point and stretch out the muscle. Trigger point massage can be done by applying heat to the area to warm and prepare the muscle. Then have someone apply steady thumb pressure directly on the knot in the muscle for 30 seconds. Release the pressure, then massage the surrounding muscle. Repeat the process, applying more pressure to the trigger point each time. Do this up to the limit of pain. With each treatment, the trigger point should become less tender and the pain should decrease. You can apply local pressure to trigger points in the back by lying on the floor with a tennis ball under the trigger point.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. You may need physical therapy if you don’t respond to home treatment alone.

Call 911

Call 911 if you have:

  • A trigger point in the chest muscles, pain that becomes more severe, lasts longer, or spreads into your shoulder, arm, or jaw

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Trouble breathing with or without chest discomfort 

  • Sweating, lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting along with chest discomfort

  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the arm, leg, or face, especially if this happens on 1 side of the body

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • A week passes and you have not improved

  • If your pain worsens, regardless of its location

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