Study Probes Pain Link Between TMJ, Fibromyalgia

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Millions of Americans are thought to suffer from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), a condition that is often misdiagnosed or goes undiagnosed because many of its most widely reported symptoms — intense headaches, facial pain, neck and shoulder discomfort, jaw popping or sticking — either seem vague or are associated with other medical conditions.

Among those conditions is fibromyalgia, a disorder that results in pervasive musculoskeletal pain and whose origins are still not entirely understood. What is known is that about 3 million Americans live with fibromyalgia, and many of them also develop TMJ. In recent years, there has been significant research into the potential relationships between chronic pain disorders, including TMJ and fibromyalgia; a recent study yielded some interesting findings about the onset of pain related to TMJ and fibromyalgia.

The Chronic Pains of TMJ and Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is characterized by a persistent achiness that permeates the body. Though TMJ stems from the connective area between the skull and the mandible, and is often the result of a bite condition or misaligned jaw, its resulting discomfort is similarly widespread and can be felt throughout the face, neck, shoulders, back, arms and hands.

Chronic, severe headaches sometimes described as migraines or “tension headaches” are common among those with TMJ and/or fibromyalgia. It should be noted that not everyone with fibromyalgia will develop TMJ, and not everyone with TMJ is at risk for fibromyalgia. But without treatment, both conditions can lead to worsening pain, progressive sleep loss, daytime fatigue and other problems.

TMJ and Fibromyalgia Pain Onset Study

In studying and assessing chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, pain is often categorized by its point of origin. Researchers at Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo recently focused on the onset of generalized body pain and facial pain among patients with fibromyalgia who also presented TMJ symptoms.

Specifically, the study honed in on myofascial pain (discomfort in key muscle points), orofacial pain (discomfort in the jaw joints and muscles), jaw stiffness (a common TMJ symptom), and mouth-opening limitations (another TMJ indicator). The research participants included 53 women, and while women are more likely to develop TMJ and fibromyalgia, both conditions can occur in men and women alike.

The participants were separated into two groups, A and B. Those in Group A reported the onset of facial pain came before the onset of generalized body pain; those in Group B stated generalized body pain preceded facial pain (incidentally, Group A had a slightly younger mean age of 47.3 ± 14.2 years compared with Group B’s mean age of 51.33 ± 11.03 years).

One of the most intriguing aspects of the study is that jaw stiffness was more widely experienced among Group A (those whose facial pain came first), but mouth-opening problems were recorded at about the same rate in both groups. Feelings of numbness or burning were predominant in Group B (numbness or a tingling sensation in the arms, hands and fingers are also typical TMJ symptoms).

Long-Term TMJ Relief

Though the research leads to more questions, it also contributes to a more comprehensive knowledge base about the relationship between TMJ, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. Although there is no cure for fibromyalgia, there are medications available to help manage the pain.

The news is better for those with temporomandibular joint disorder. There are a number of TMJ treatments available, including oral appliances to hold the jaw in an optimal position, and BOTOX® Cosmetic to relax the jaw muscles and relieve nerve pain.

The first step to finding long-term relief from TMJ pain is to consult with a knowledgeable neuromuscular dentist who will recommend the best option for you based on the source and severity of your condition.

Nashville dentist Dr. Kent White has helped many patients achieve lasting relief from headaches and other TMJ pain by treating the source of the condition, not just the symptoms. Please call the Center for Advanced Dentistry at (615) 383-6787 to schedule your appointment with Dr. White.