Prevalence of Myofascial Pain Syndrome in Chronic Non-Specific Neck Pain: A Population-Based Cross-Sectional Descriptive Study

Pain Med. 2016 Dec;17(12):2369-2377. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnw114. Epub 2016 Jun 20.


Background: Chronic non-specific neck pain is a frequent complaint. It is a recognized medical and socioeconomic problem and a frequent cause of job absenteeism. In recent years, case reports about myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) are emerging among patients suffering from pain. MPS is a regional pain syndrome characterized by myofascial trigger points (MTrP) in palpable taut bands of skeletal muscle that refer pain to a distance, and that can cause distant motor and autonomic effects.

Objective: To assess the prevalence of active and latent MTrPs in subjects suffering from chronic non-specific neck pain.

Design: A population-based cross-sectional descriptive study was carried out from January 2012 to December 2014.

Setting: Three primary healthcare centers in Alcalá de Henares, Madrid (Spain).

Subjects: Two hundred and twenty-four participants diagnosed by their family doctor with chronic non-specific neck pain.

Methods: Participants were examined by a physical therapist to determine the presence of MPS. Pain descriptions from the subjects and pain body diagrams guided the physical examination. The subjects were not given any information concerning MPS or other muscle pain syndromes.

Results: All participants presented with MPS. MTrPs of the trapezius muscles were the most prevalent, in 93.75% of the participants. The most prevalent active MTrPs were located right (82.1%) and left (79%) in the nearly-horizontal fibers of the upper trapezius muscle. Furthermore, active MTrPs in the levator scapulae, multifidi, and splenius cervicis muscles reached a prevalence of 82.14%, 77.68%, and 62.5%, respectively.

Conclusions: MPS is a common source of pain in subjects presenting chronic non-specific neck pain.

Keywords: Myofascial Pain Syndromes; Myofascial Trigger Point; Neck Pain; Physical Therapy; Prevalence.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Pain / etiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myofascial Pain Syndromes / complications*
  • Myofascial Pain Syndromes / epidemiology*
  • Neck Pain / etiology*
  • Prevalence