Myofascial Pain: Under-Diagnosed and Overlooked

Posted In: Feline Health & Wellness, Canine Health & Wellness

As we continue to shed light on conditions that commonly cause pain in pets, we wanted to share one cause of pain that often is under-diagnosed and overlooked: myofascial pain.

Myofascial pain originates in the muscles and connective tissue that surround joints. It isn’t the same as the typical joint pain people and animals often experience, though it has been found to occur in all animals.

Many things can lead to this type of chronic pain. The pain may occur suddenly, like with an injury or a wrenching movement, but usually the pain happens gradually as a result of overuse or muscle imbalance. It can also occur secondary to other issues, such as orthopedic injury or surgery, traumatic injuries, and repetitive motions. Over time, the joint becomes compressed, and this leads to chronic joint damage.

Interestingly, there is a link between hypothyroidism and myofascial pain in humans, and hypothyroidism is the most common endocrine disorder in dogs. While pain is not a classically reported clinical symptom of hypothyroidism in dogs, veterinarians are increasingly establishing links between hypothyroidism and chronic pain across all causes. 

Diagnosing Myofascial Pain
Myofascial pain can’t be detected on x-rays or by other advanced diagnostic tests. As a result, it often goes undiagnosed, and the pet suffers from chronic and life-long pain.

Knowledgeable veterinarians are able to diagnose myofascial pain by using their hands to manually palpate the trigger points (knots in the muscles) and accessing the patient’s reaction. The trigger points are focal points for inflammation and irritation, and in the active phase, a trigger point may be painful for your pet.

If gentle pressure is applied, pain may radiate from the trigger point to other areas of your pet’s body. Some trigger points may be sensitive, but not as painful as active trigger points. But, it is important to know that even trigger points that are slightly sensitive can lead to problems, including stiffness and decreased range of motion.

Treating Myofascial Pain
While there are many great medication options available to treat most types of pain, myofascial pain typically does not seem to be helped by typical medications.

Laser therapy can provide some relief from myofascial pain. The laser reduces inflammation, improves blood flow, and releases natural endorphins.

Another option for helping pets with myofascial pain, and one that has been the most reliable and consistent in terms of pain relief, is dry needling. An acupuncture needed is used to stimulate the trigger point, which helps to release the tight muscle bands and decrease pain. Our doctors will work with you to determine if dry needling is a good option for your pet, and they will determine if pain medications or sedatives are necessary to keep your pet as comfortable as possible during the process.

If your pet is experiencing pain, we encourage you to schedule a veterinary appointment as soon as possible. Diagnosing and treating painful conditions early is key to helping your pet feel his or her best.

The Animal Medical Center of Mid-America has veterinarians at two locations that can answer questions about your pet’s health. Call 314-951-1534 or click here to request an appointment online.