One of the most baffling things about TMJ is how it can cause such a wide range of symptoms throughout the body. Not only is TMJ responsible for problems like jaw pain, migraines, and neck pain, but it’s linked to conditions like fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
New research exposes important links between these chronic conditions, and it shows how treating TMJ may have far-reaching benefits.
A Bidirectional Signal Mechanism
At Missouri State University, researchers looking at orofacial pain (pain in the mouth and face) have discovered that calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), an inflammatory protein, can both be released by an irritated trigeminal nerve and make the trigeminal nerve more susceptible to irritation.
CGRP has recently gained significant attention for what seems to be a key role in the process of migraines, touching of the chain reaction of inflammation that results in crippling pain. In fact, researchers are so confident of its role that four major pharmaceutical companies are developing migraine treatments based on blocking CGRP.
But researchers have found that spinal CGRP levels are important, too. It turns out that the levels of CGRP in your spine can make your trigeminal nerve more sensitive, which then increases your risk of migraines.
With this type of bidirectional signalling going on, it’s no wonder that many people experience migraines repeatedly, as each migraine “primes the pump” for future migraine attacks. Meanwhile, the spinal cord can serve to conduct elevated CGRP levels throughout the body, causing other painful inflammatory conditions.
A Key Role for TMJ
As researchers have looked at the link between these chronic pain conditions, it has become clear that TMJ could play an important role in setting off a number of chronic pain conditions in the body. When jaw muscles and joints become tense, irritated, and inflamed, they release CGRP and other inflammatory compounds, which can then spread through the body, which may contribute to the risk of other chronic pain conditions.
More importantly, this work has shown that blocking elevated levels of these inflammatory compounds in TMJ can break the chain of inflammation and inhibit the development of other chronic pain disorders.
This shows again that TMJ treatment has the potential to have far-ranging positive effects on your body. It gives us the ability to reduce pain risks related to other conditions. As our knowledge of TMJ increases, we gain a broader understanding of the benefits of TMJ treatment.