Myo = muscle
Fascia = connective tissue surrounding the muscle
Although myofascial pain (or pain in the muscle and its surrounding tissue) can occur anywhere in the body, the term is most often used to describe chronic or long-term pain in the large muscles of the head, neck and face. (See diagram below).
This pain is aggravated by the use of the affected muscle(s) and is usually described as a dull ache. Accompanied by this general dull aching are hypersensitive spots called trigger points. Trigger points are usually located within tight muscles or the tissue (fascia) surrounding them and are very tender if touched or palpated. They can feel like "knots" in the muscle.
These hypersensitive trigger points can also produce referred pain. Referred pain is pain felt in areas of the body (in this case, the head, face & neck) other than the injured/sensitive muscle. In many cases of myofascial pain, the "referred pain" is experienced as a tension-type headache.
Other common symptoms of myofascial pain can include muscle stiffness, a feeling of the "bite being off" even though dental exams show it is not, ringing in the ears, dizziness, generalized tooth pain, muscle spasms and/or difficulty with wide openings of the jaw.
Although the exact cause of myofasical pain is not well known, it is documented as the most prevalent cause of pain in the head and neck region.
Fortunately, myofascial pain is a treatable and/or manageable condition. Depending on the cause, treatment can be as simple as a home care plan (hot packs, facial massage, control of detrimental behaviors) and/or use of an oral splint. In more complex situations, your TMJ dentist may also recommend a multidisciplinary team of physical therapists, health psychologists and other healthcare professionals for your care. Either way, if you are committed to getting better, your TMJ dentist should be able to help you.