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Baeumler, Petra; Hupe, Kerstin; Irnich, Dominik (2023): Proposal of a diagnostic algorithm for myofascial trigger points based on a multiple correspondence analysis of cross-sectional data. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 24 (1). ISSN 1471-2474

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Myofascial trigger points (MTrPS), the morphological correlate of myfascial pain syndromes (MPS), contribute to the worldwide high chronic pain burden. However, uncertainty about MTrP diagnostic criteria remains. Aim of this cross-sectional study was to characterize clusters of diagnostic criteria assessable during physical examination that might guide MTrP diagnosis.

Thirteen MTrP diagnostic criteria proposed in relevant literature were assessed by standardized examinations in the trapezius and levator scapulae muscles of 61 chronic pain patients undergoing an interdisciplinary pain assessment. Hierarchical cluster analysis from multiple correspondence analysis was applied to data of the four muscles separately. Examining physicians classified the findings as MTrP, sufficient for diagnosis of an MPS and/or relevant for the patients’ pain condition.

Taut bands, hypersensitive spots within a taut band, nodules within a taut band and referred pain (classical diagnostic criteria) were most frequent (28–66% M. trapezius, 8–21% M. levator scapulae). Restricted range of motion, pain during contraction, pain exacerbation during emotional stress, muscular weakness, jump sign, local twitch response and autonomic phenomena (complementary diagnostic criteria) occurred in 2–25% and hypersensitive spots and nodules outside of a taut band in 2–7% of the cases. Four clusters emerged: (1) no or just one diagnostic criterion, mostly a taut band alone; (2) a hypersensitive spot and/or nodule outside of a taut band partly in combination with complementary diagnostic criteria; (3) at least two classical diagnostic criteria (mostly a taut band containing a hypersensitive spot) partly in combination with complementary diagnostic criteria; (4) at least two, rather three, classical diagnostic criteria always in combination with complementary diagnostic criteria. Referred pain was specific to cluster 3 and 4. Among classical diagnostic criteria, palpable nodules within a taut band contributed least, and among complementary diagnostic criteria, restricted range of motion and pain during contraction contributed most to data representation.

We propose that the definite diagnosis of an MTrP requires a hypersensitive spot potentially felt as a nodule located within a taut band in addition to either referred pain, a local twitch response or at least two complementary diagnostic criteria, whereby signs of muscular dysfunction take on greater importance.

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