Myofascial pain syndrome and fibromyalgia may sound totally different, but their expression of pain is very much alike.
Since both illnesses are caused by problems arising from tissues like muscles, tendons or fascia, they share similar ways of treatment.
Muscles are a bundle of fibers covered by fascia. Normally, muscles require a certain degree of activity to maintain blood circulation. Nutrients and oxygen are brought to the muscles while lactic acid and metabolic wastes are carried away from the muscles.
When muscles contract abnormally for a prolonged period, blood flow will be hindered, resulting in a deficiency of oxygen reaching the muscles.
When nutrients cannot be supplied to various body parts and metabolic wastes cannot be transported away, these can cause stiffness of the muscles, followed by pain.
Myofascial pain syndrome is a relatively mild illness. When pressed, specific spots in the muscles or fascia that hurt will transmit the pain to other parts of the body.
If there are several stiff or sensitive spots present in the same group of muscles, significant pain can be felt even without pressing.
Common causes of the illness include poor posture, long hours of sitting, using the computer, lifting heavy things and other activities that upset the balance of muscle contraction.
When muscles keep contracting for a long period of time, the range of motion of the joints will be limited, resulting in stiff and weak muscles.
Compression may even be formed around the nerves or blood vessels that are supposedly protected by the muscles, which worsens blood circulation around the limbs and causes numbness.
Lack of physical exercise is also a cause of myofascial pain syndrome as certain muscles groups lose their flexibility and strength over time.
Areas that commonly experience pain include shoulders, the neck, the waist and hips. When the anterior scalene muscles in the neck or the piriformis muscles in the hips are tightened up, nerves and blood vessels that are protected by the muscles may be compressed.
This causes numbness in arms or legs, swelling, coldness and symptoms that are wrongly associated with degenerative arthritis, sciatica or herniated discs.
Since muscle tension does not show on X-ray films, problems brought by myofascial pain syndrome and fibromyalgia are often neglected.
Many people take their discomfort or pain as a delusion and miss receiving timely treatment.
Like myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia also has to do with muscle pain but with much more serious symptoms.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 6
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]