Muscle pain: mechanisms and clinical significance

Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2008 Mar;105(12):214-9. doi: 10.3238/artzebl.2008.0214. Epub 2008 Mar 21.


Introduction: Muscle pain is common, but the understanding of its causes is still patchy. This article addresses the mechanisms of some important types of muscle pain.

Methods: Selective literature review, predominantly of data derived from neuroanatomical and electrophysiological experiments on anesthetized rats.

Results: Muscle pain is evoked by specialized nerve endings (nociceptors). Important stimuli for muscle pain are adenosintriphosphate (ATP) and a low tissue pH. Excitation of muscle nociceptors leads to hyperexcitability of spinal sensory neurones (central sensitization). Low frequency activity in muscle nociceptors is sufficient to induce central sensitization.

Discussion: Central sensitization leads to increased excitation in the spinal cord and to referral of muscle pain. The motoneurones of a painful muscle are centrally inhibited. Muscular spasm is mostly secondary to a painful lesion in another muscle or joint. The pain of fibromyalgia is assumed to relate to a dysfunction of central nociceptive processing. Psychosocial factors also contribute to pain.

Keywords: fibromyalgia; muscle pain; muscle spasm; myofascial trigger point; nociceptor; sensitization.