One thing that has become increasingly clear is that some chronic pain disorders tend to be found in the same people. It’s not just that the disorders tended to affect the same demographic (often women of childbearing age), but that many people with the disorders didn’t have just one: they had several. Over time, researchers began to suspect that while the different pain disorders had been named according to the region that was affected, they were actually all linked with a mysterious mechanism. Recently, we have come to designate these as chronic overlapping pain conditions, (COPC), and work to understand what might link them.
Is TMJ a COPC?
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ or sometimes TMD) is one of the COPC that helped define the category. In fact, about 75% of people with TMJ have another COPC. In fact, with TMJ, there’s an 8% chance that people will have four other COPC, the second highest risk of any COPC. If people don’t have another COPC, it is actually likely that they will develop one in the future (more on this later).
The most common COPCs that overlap with TMJ are:
- Migraine (30%)
- Chronic lower back pain (30%)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (24%)
- Fibromyalgia (22%)
- Vulvodynia (17%)
- Interstitial cystitis (13%)
- Endometriosis (8%)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (8%)
When considering these conditions, it’s easy to see that some of the symptoms of TMJ, such as headache, may be precursors of developing other COPCs. This means it may be important to treat TMJ early, before the onset of other conditions.
Will Treating TMJ Help?
If COPC aren’t actually related to the region they affect, people might wonder whether treating TMJ is actually an effective strategy for reducing overall pain. The answer is yes, and that it’s possible that early TMJ treatment could head off later problems with other pain conditions.
Researchers have looked at important connections between COPC. One important link is the calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which plays an important role for signaling in several chronic pain conditions and has been linked to inflammation throughout the body.
CGRP is often released by the trigeminal nerve in response to stress. This important nerve in the face does many important function, but much of its focus is on controlling the jaw muscles and receiving pain signals back from the same muscles. As a result, TMJ, which stresses the jaw muscles, can often be responsible for elevated CGRP levels that can trigger migraines and other chronic pain conditions.
We have also seen that when headaches get worse, it’s a sign that people are likely to be diagnosed with TMJ.
We know from our experience that patients with successful TMJ treatment aren’t likely to develop other pain conditions, and that those who already have migraines can see significant relief.
Let Us Discover Whether TMJ Treatment Will Help
If you have TMJ in San Diego and either have or fear you will develop other COPCs, let us help. We can scientifically evaluate your jaw to determine whether you might benefit from the noninvasive, drug-free TMJ treatment we offer. Or we may determine that our treatment isn’t appropriate for you and can refer you to someone who will be more likely to help.