muscle knots

What To Know About Massage for Myofascial Pain Syndrome

What To Know About Massage for Myofascial Pain Syndrome

If you’ve ever encountered myofascial pain syndrome (MPS), you know about the painful, tender trigger points that can come with it. But did you know that it will impact up to 85% of people at some point in their lives?

Whether it be from daily stress, an injury, or poor posture, you’re not alone if you’re facing symptoms of MPS. Fortunately, massage therapy — whether at home or from a professional — could bring you some much-needed relief.

Below, we’ll dive into everything you should know about massage for myofascial pain syndrome, including the benefits, research, and tips to know before starting.

What Is Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

Myofascial pain syndrome is a condition characterized by tight, painful “knots” in the muscles. These are hyperirritable bundles of tissue that most often affect upper body muscles, such as the rhomboids, trapezius muscles, and neck. But they can also form in lower body muscles, like the hamstrings. 

Symptoms of MPS can range from mild and acute, to chronic and painful. They can show up as:

  • Deep muscle pain 
  • Interruptions in sleep due to aches and pains
  • Tender knots in muscles
  • Knots that cause local (focused) pain or referred pain (pain in seemingly unrelated areas in the body)
  • Pain that stays consistent or worsens over time
  • Fatigue
  • Stiffness or lack of mobility in certain muscles
  • Posture issues

Who Gets Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

So, what increases your chances of getting myofascial pain syndrome? Even without knowing it, many people will experience at least mild myofascial pain at some point in their lives. And while it can stem from other medical conditions, it’s often a result of simple, everyday strain on the body. 

For example, myofascial pain can be caused by:

  • Muscle injuries
  • Repetitive strain and stress on specific muscles
  • Spending a lot of time in a cold environment
  • Chronic feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Lack of movement due to a sedentary lifestyle or an injury (like a muscle tear, strain, or broken bone)

More rarely, conditions like vitamin deficiencies, hormonal problems, or a pinched nerve can also add to MPS symptoms. And in some cases, the root cause may not be as clear or easy to identify.

How Is Myofascial Pain Syndrome Diagnosed?

Diagnosing myofascial pain syndrome doesn’t involve tools like X-rays or lab tests. Instead, it starts with ruling out other conditions — like bone or nerve problems — that could be causing your symptoms. From there, your doctor may check your muscles for active or latent trigger points. 

Active trigger points can cause tenderness and pain at any time — even when they’re not being touched. Latent trigger points, on the other hand, may not cause any discomfort until you push on them. Looking for knots like these can help your doctor figure out whether or not your symptoms are a result of MPS.

What Are the Treatments?

If you have mild myofascial pain, the good news is that it often eases up with home remedies and lifestyle changes. But if you have more intense or persistent pain, your doctor may recommend treatments like:

  • Physical therapy involving targeted stretches and exercises
  • Dry needling, which uses thin needles to improve blood flow and reduce pain
  • Trigger point injections, which use local anesthetics to soothe the muscles 
  • “Spray and stretch,” which involves cooling the muscles and following up with slow, manual stretching
  • TENS therapy, which uses small electrical currents to reduce pain and tension
  • Prescriptions such as muscle relaxants, steroids, or pain medication
  • Less common treatments, such as acupuncture, ultrasound, low-level light therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy

Can Massage Help Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

Breaking up knots and trigger points is often a fundamental part of massage therapy. And beyond that, it can also promote healthy mobility, boost blood flow, and improve overall well-being. 

But what does the research have to say about massage’s effects on myofascial pain?

So far, the results have been promising. One 2023 study looked at whether deep tissue massage could help patients diagnosed with myofascial pain syndrome. They split the participants into two groups:

  • The first group used traditional treatments such as TENS therapy, ultrasound, and heat.
  • The second group received all of these therapies, in addition to 12 sessions of deep tissue massage. 

At the end of the study, researchers found that deep tissue massage was able to ease pain, improve quality of life, and boost range of motion. But that’s not all it can do for those dealing with MPS.

When it comes to massage for myofascial pain, here are a few more potential benefits to know about:

Short-Term Relief from Trigger Points

If you’re curious about noninvasive ways to relieve trigger points, massage can be a fantastic option to consider.

Professional massage therapists use a focused form of massage to break up knots and tension. It involves holding pressure on a knot for 30 to 90 seconds until it “releases.” Plus, many home tools — like massage balls or foam rollers — can provide a gentle, sustained form of self-massage for knots and muscle pain.

General Pain Management

In general, many people find that massage is quite helpful for managing pain. Those with conditions ranging from fibromyalgia to plantar fasciitis have found relief from using it. And if you’ve ever received a massage after a long day, you might already know how soothing it can be.

So, how exactly does it work? Harvard University notes that massage may help reduce pain by curbing anxiety, relaxing the body, and “closing the pain gate.” In other words, it’s theorized that by stimulating certain nerves, massage can interrupt the flow of pain signals being sent to the brain.

At any rate, a well-executed massage can be an incredible tool for easing tight, irritable bands of muscle tissue.

Relaxation and Stress Relief

Stress and anxiety can play a big part in how MPS shows up, and many people find that their symptoms worsen during periods of high stress.

Luckily, massage has been shown to alleviate stress in many groups of people — and not just emotional stress. In fact, some studies have found that a good massage may reduce cortisol, temporarily lower blood pressure, and even enhance sleep quality.

Trying Massage from a Professional: What To Expect

Do you want to try professional massage, but aren’t sure what to expect? The truth is that seeing a professional isn’t just for people on vacation or visiting spas. Those with chronic musculoskeletal issues can greatly benefit from regular visits to a licensed massage therapist.

If you’re planning to try massage for myofascial pain syndrome, here are some helpful modalities to know about:

Myofascial Release Therapy

In a massage session for MPS, your therapist may recommend trying myofascial release therapy. This style uses sustained, moderate pressure to break up tension in the muscles and fascia. In addition to using slower, all-over pressure, your masseuse may also focus on specific trigger points during the session.

Overall, myofascial release therapy is geared toward lengthening and loosening muscles that have become stiff and contracted. As a result, it can help reduce discomfort and pain, all while supporting your mobility.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage is a modality that targets muscle tissue much deeper than the surface. It uses deep, slow kneading and gliding to break up chronic muscle tension and adhesions. 

Deep tissue is less relaxing than other types of massage — instead, it focuses on working through specific pain points. It may not be for everyone, but it can be remarkably helpful for those with longer-term aches and pains.

Self-Massage for Myofascial Pain Syndrome

If you’re dealing with persistent aches and pains due to MPS, self-massage can be a powerful remedy to add into your routine.

For many, it’s more convenient than professional massage — and it still has the potential to reduce pain, relieve stress, improve sleep, and boost your overall quality of life.

Of course, it’s important to get your doctor’s OK before starting. But once you have the green light, here are a few self-massage tools and techniques that can bring some relief:

Use a Foam Roller for Myofascial Release

Foam rollers are incredibly simple, versatile tools that almost anyone can use. Whether your trigger points are in your back, shoulder blades, or even your hamstrings, they’re some of the most user-friendly options for at-home massage.

For example, here’s one easy way that a foam roller can help you knead out upper back pain:

  • Lie on a comfortable surface, and place the foam roller under your middle back, perpendicular to your spine.
  • Bend your legs so that your knees are pointing upward, with your feet planted firmly on the ground.
  • Take a few deep breaths in, and allow your spine to decompress for 10 to 20 seconds.
  • Then, use your leg strength to slowly begin rolling your upper back muscles. 
  • Use moderate pressure, and roll at a pace of about one inch per second. (Tip: Be sure to stop at your middle back to avoid rolling your lower spine.)
  • When you feel a tender trigger point or knot, pause and hold the pressure for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for 2 to 3 minutes, up to a few times per day as needed. 

Try a Tennis Ball or Massage Ball

If you don’t have specific massage tools on hand, don’t stress. A simple tennis ball can help you work on painful trigger points that you might have a hard time reaching otherwise.

There are a variety of massage techniques you can try using a tennis ball. But in general, they tend to follow these steps:

  • Place the tennis ball between your target muscle and a solid surface. For example, you could massage your rhomboid (shoulder blade muscle) by placing a tennis ball between the muscle and a wall.
  • From there, you’d lean back into the ball to apply light-to-moderate pressure. Then, you can massage your muscles by moving your body up, down, and side-to-side.
  • When you hit a trigger point, pause and hold the pressure for 10 to 30 seconds.

Other Trigger Point Tools

Foam rollers and tennis balls aren’t the only tools you can use for a soothing self-massage. In fact, there are plenty of other therapeutic tools that can help ease deep muscle tension. Some of the most popular options include:

  • Massage guns: These use targeted, powerful bursts of pressure to soothe muscle aches and pains. They’re especially popular among athletes, but they’re great for anyone who enjoys deeper, more focused massage.
  • Massage canes: These are low-cost, user-friendly tools that make it easier to target knots in the back, shoulders, and other hard-to-reach areas.
  • Electric massage tools: Oscillating body massagers are excellent tools for all-over relief. If you’re interested in purchasing one of these, it’s best to look for one that is physician-trusted and FDA certified. 

Are There Any Risks of Trying Massage?

For most people, massage is a safe and natural option to try — but as with all alternative therapies, it may not be for everyone. Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying massage for myofascial pain syndrome, and double-check with them if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have skin conditions 
  • Have acute injuries, such as a muscle tear or broken bone
  • Have uncontrolled high blood pressure or other cardiovascular conditions
  • Have a history of blood clotting disorders
  • Are dealing with any other medical conditions that you aren’t sure about

Other Remedies for Myofascial Pain Syndrome

People often recover from MPS after a few weeks — but for others, it can be chronic and debilitating. And while there’s no cure-all, many people find that a blend of medical treatments and lifestyle changes is what gets them on track to feeling pain-free again.

With that in mind, here are a few other MPS remedies that may be worth looking into:

Make Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes are seemingly small things that can make a big difference in how your symptoms show up. Some steps you can take include:

  • Stress management. Lowering your stress helps just about every aspect of your body, including your muscles. Deep breathing, removing stressors, and focusing more on your self-care are all great places to start.
  • Avoid repetitive, straining motions by switching up your workflow or day-to-day activities.
  • If working at a desk, create an ergonomic workspace. Everything from your monitor height to the type of chair you’re sitting in can impact your muscle health.
  • Pay attention to your posture and sleep positioning. Proper posture and alignment while sleeping can help you prevent putting unnecessary stress on your bones, muscles, and joints.

Eat Fewer Inflammatory Foods

According to the Cleveland Clinic, cutting back on inflammatory foods may also help prevent pain associated with MPS. Foods to avoid include things like cane sugar, fried foods, refined carbohydrates, soft drinks, and processed meats.

Beyond that, you can try adding more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet — like leafy greens, olive oil, fatty fish, berries, and other fruits and vegetables.

Add More Exercise Into Your Daily Life

Surprisingly, past studies have shown that movement is often one of the best ways to find relief from myofascial pain.

Low-impact exercises like swimming and cycling can help improve circulation, relieve pain, and loosen up your muscles — and a bonus is that exercises like these can help your body function better altogether. But you can try other types of exercise, too.

Some options include:

  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Active and passive stretching
  • Aerobic exercises like jump roping, hiking, and dancing
  • Casual sports like badminton or tennis 
  • Resistance training using weights or resistance bands

Talk to Your Doctor

Finally, the best step you can take to manage persistent MPS symptoms is to talk with your doctor. There’s no single treatment that works for everyone, and it often takes trial and error with different methods to start finding true relief.

Whether you need dry needling, injections, or something else, your doctor can help you navigate the many treatment options and find a combination that works for you.

The Bottom Line

Myofascial pain syndrome is an often overlooked, underdiagnosed condition — which means it can be challenging to deal with. Thankfully, a good massage could bring you some relief. Studies have shown that massage can reduce myofascial pain, increase range of motion, and improve well-being as a whole.

To get started, you can try simple tools, like a foam roller or tennis ball. But for even deeper relief, the restorative devices from MedMassager can help.

Pick up the MedMassager MMB05 body massager today, or learn more about the many ways it can support your well-being here.

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