Chronic myofascial pain (CMP) is a chronic pain disease characterized by trigger points in the musculature causing pain in distinct areas of the body. Pain symptoms of CMP can be severe and debilitating. While much of the underlying mechanics of myofascial pain is not clearly understood, research suggests that symptoms are derived from the existence of trigger points within muscles, which are activated by injury or repetitive strain to muscles. It is generally understood that while one trigger point may be responsible for an experience of myofascial pain, it is more commonly a network of several trigger points that contribute to pain in a given region.
The defining clinical definition of myofascial pain is an active pain trigger point, experienced as a focused point of tenderness within a muscle. Pain associated with myofascial pain is usually experienced as dull aching of a muscle and the associated muscle group. Referred pain, or pain experienced at a site adjacent or not near the originating trigger point, is also common.
An estimated 44 million Americans suffer from myofascial pain problems, and trigger points have been associated with an estimated 30 percent of pain problems in American pain complaints. Research suggests that myofascial pain triggers are a potential component of tension-type headaches, back pain, postural pain and other pain conditions.
Further studies suggest that most individuals have trigger points within their musculature, however for 45 percent of women and 55 percent of men, these trigger points are asymptomatic.
Chronic myofascial pain symptoms can be mistaken for a large number of other disorders, so a thorough physical examination is required for proper diagnosis of this largely not understood disease.
Chronic myofascial pain is a complex but manageable disease. Professional attention can help narrow down the causes of chronic pain and make a positive diagnosis of CMP based on physical examination and additional procedures to rule out alternative sources of a patient's pain symptoms. Several treatment options, including physical therapy, oral appliances, and medications, can be leveraged as part of a comprehensive management plan.