Cervical myofascial pain syndrome is a condition in which the layer of connective tissue that surrounds your neck muscles (fascia) becomes tight or damaged. The result is often:

  • Tight or achy neck muscles that may limit your range of motion.
  • Pain that spreads from your neck to nearby parts of the body, such as the head and shoulders.
  • Knots you can feel in your neck and/or upper back, sometimes called trigger points, which hurt when you press them. (There is not a consensus in the medical literature about what a trigger point is and what causes it.)

This condition is often thought to be caused by previous injury, repetitive neck movements, overuse, stress, and/or poor posture. Read on to learn how to treat it.


Self-care tips for treating cervical myofascial pain syndrome

There are several treatments you can do on your own that may reduce your myofascial neck pain:

  • Exercise. Perform gentle exercises that stretch and strengthen neck and upper back muscles to help ease tightness, improve posture, and reduce myofascial pain. Aerobic activity, such as biking, swimming, and walking, is also recommended.

    See Neck Exercises for Neck Pain

  • DIY massage. You can find temporary pain relief by giving yourself a trigger point massage. Lie on your back and gently smooth out the tight knots with a foam roller or tennis ball underneath your neck and/or upper back.

    See Using a Foam Roller to Relieve Neck Pain

  • Heat therapy. Applying heat soothes constricted muscles by dilating local blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the painful area. Only use heat therapy (such as an electric heating pad) on your neck for 20 minutes at a time, and always protect your skin with a barrier.

    See How to Apply Heat Therapy

  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (e.g., Aleve) may help reduce inflammation and offer enough relief for you to stretch and exercise. Follow the label’s directions carefully before use.

    See Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain

  • Relaxation techniques. Deep breathing exercises and meditation can reduce stress and muscle tension in the body.

    See 11 Chronic Pain Control Techniques

It is best for self-care to be practiced under the guidance of a health care provider. If any of these tips increase your pain, stop immediately.

How health care providers may treat myofascial pain syndrome

Here are some ways you can expect health care providers to provide you with treatment:

  • Myofascial release therapy. A health care provider such as a chiropractor, osteopathic physician, or physical therapist may treat your myofascial pain syndrome using something called myofascial release therapy. This therapy uses gentle direct pressure and long stretching strokes on trigger points. Progress is measured by seeing if your range of motion and functionality increases and/or if your pain decreases.

    See Myofascial Therapy for the Treatment of Acute and Chronic Pain

  • Acupuncture or dry-needling. Some physical therapists and chiropractors use acupuncture or dry-needling to treat myofascial pain. These are alternative medical techniques in which hair-thin metallic needles are inserted at specific points on the body, with the goal of relieving tension.
  • Trigger point injections. This outpatient procedure takes only a few minutes. The physician inserts a needle through the skin and into the trigger point, injecting an anesthetic mixture into the trigger point. The goal is for the trigger point to relax enough so you can exercise and stretch.

It is hoped that this quick guide to cervical myofascial pain syndrome gives you a helpful starting point for finding treatment and experiencing relief.

Learn more:

Neuromuscular Massage Therapy

Treatment for Neck Pain

Ron Miller is a licensed physical therapist with more than 20 years of experience specializing in spine care. He helped develop the physical therapy department at the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin, where he focuses on manual therapy, spinal stabilization, and therapeutic exercises.