Myofascial Pain New Diagnostic Technique

Hard to Diagnose

Some nine million Americans have a painful condition that is hard to diagnose and not well understood: myofascial pain syndrome. The key symptom of this condition is severe muscular pain in the back, shoulders, and neck. Lucky for sufferers of this chronic condition, the Mayo Clinic has developed a new type of imaging technology that may provide for a definitive diagnosis of myofascial pain syndrome as well as giving research scientists a lead on improved therapies to treat the condition.

Gentle Vibrations

Thanks to the Mayo Clinic, it is now possible to view images of affected muscles with more clarity and precision. The new imaging technology is called magnetic resonance elastography, or MRE. Magnetic resonance imagining, or MRI uses both radio waves and a magnetic field to produce cross-sectioned images of the tissues and organs of the body in a clear and precise manner. MRE is different than MRI in that MRE can measure the elasticity of body tissue by passing gentle vibrations through this tissue.

The MRE machinery consists of standard MRI equipment with only a few changes to the works that allow for measuring wavelengths of vibrations as they are sent through the body tissues. This is accomplished by means of a metal plate that is placed onto the patient. Vibrations are sent through the metal, and this causes the muscles to contract and tighten. As this tightening occurs, technicians are able to measure the elasticity of these muscles as well as determine the presence of any abnormal hardening of the tissues, which is the cause of myofascial pain.

Jeffrey Basford, M.D., Ph.D., author of the study and a Mayo Clinic specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation says, "Additional research is necessary, but our findings in this pilot study provide a strong basis to suspect that MRE technology can identify changes in muscle tone and stiffness that could previously only be identified by physical examination by a physician or a therapist. Prior to these findings, we did not have a good diagnostic test for myofascial pain syndrome."

Like fibromyalgia, myofascial pain syndrome has been very difficult to diagnose and treat. The two conditions tend to be lumped together, though on clinical examination, they appear quite different. Fibromyalgia is characterized by pain throughout the body, whereas myofascial pain syndrome is a localized set of symptoms that comes with trigger points: small knots in tight muscles that when touched, cause a reverberation of referred pain.

Dr. Basford explains that the syndrome has, in the past, been quite difficult to diagnose. This new type of diagnostic imaging may provide for a refining of treatment options for the syndrome.

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