Information on Myofascial Pain Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

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Myofascial Pain Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. Tetra Images / Getty Images

Question: What is the Difference Between Myofascial Pain Syndrome and Fibromyalgia?

Myofascial pain syndrome and fibromyalgia are two different muscle pain conditions, each involving palpable “points.” Aside from crossover –- 72% of people with fibromyalgia also have active trigger points, one of the main symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome -- most of the remaining symptoms in each could not be more distinct from one another.



Fibromyalgia is also known as chronic “widespread pain.” This type of pain is usually felt in all four limbs and in the trunk. The American College of Rheumatology classifies chronic widespread pain as fibromyalgia if it is also accompanied by the confirmed presence of at least 11 out of 18 (pre-identified) tender points. These tender points are 1 centimeter areas in specific muscles which are very sensitive to the touch. Pain from tender points is local, that is, it goes no further than the tender point itself.

When comparing fibromyalgia patients to those with widespread pain but no tender points, research shows that the presence of the extra sensitive tender points is linked to greater pain, more severe symptoms and a more pronounced decrease in the quality of life. Fibromyalgia patients often complain of fatigue, sleep problems, headaches and mood disturbances.

The muscles of fibromyalgia patients have been described by experts as “soft and doughy,” and there is excessive range of motion in the joints.

Fibromyalgia occurs mostly in females. The female to male ratio is between 4 and 9: 1.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome is defined by trigger points, which are felt as taut bands of muscle. The trigger points refer pain to other (nearby) locations in the body. When pressed, trigger points elicit a twitch response, also known as a “jump sign.” One of the main characteristics of myofascial pain syndrome is that the pain is regional, or confined to a limited area of the body.

Generally, myofascial pain will be found in the shoulders, neck, arms, face, low back and/or legs. It is quite often a result of misaligned posture.

Myofascial pain syndrome can be treated in a number of ways, including injections, stretching with the use of a cooling spray (a method called spray and stretch), and specific manual or massage techniques that eradicate the trigger points.

People with myofascial pain and trigger points tend to have tight muscles and limited flexibility. Myofascial pain syndrome occurs in an approximately 1:1 male to female ratio.

Summarizing the Differences Between Myofascial Pain Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

As we have seen, fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome are two very different problems. Fibromyalgia is a widespread pain syndrome accompanied by fatigue and muscle tenderness. These symptoms are not associated with inflammation. Treating fibromyalgia is often multidisciplinary, for example, you may need gentle to moderate exercise, counseling, and anti-depressants all at the same time. Myofascial pain, on the other hand, is the condition of muscles that occurs when trigger points cause reduced functioning in soft tissue, and pain. Myofascial pain syndrome benefits from treatments that are physical in nature, such as manual medicine and restorative movement aimed at improving postural alignment.

Research also supports the use of injections as a way to relieve pain from trigger points. For people with tender points alone, however, treatment with injections has not shown to be very effective. This is one notable difference between fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome as published in medical literature. So, if you are considering injections for myofascial pain or for fibromyalgia, ask your doctor for more information.


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