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

Muscle pain: mechanisms and clinical significance.

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Institut für Anatomie und Zellbiologie III, Universität Heidelberg.



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.


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


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.


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.


fibromyalgia; muscle pain; muscle spasm; myofascial trigger point; nociceptor; sensitization

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