When it comes to chronic pain for many people it doesn’t rain but it pours. They don’t have chronic pain in just one place. They have it in multiple places, along with other symptoms that indicate the existence of multiple pain conditions. Over time, we have learned that these conditions may be linked in some important, causal way. To describe these conditions, researchers have come up with the label chronic overlapping pain conditions, often shortened to COPC.
These disorders often affect women of childbearing age. We’re not entirely sure of the link between them, but we have some suspicions, and we think that maybe treating one may help to mediate the impact of the others.
Is TMJ a COPC?
In order to be considered a COPC, a condition must meet a couple of criteria. First, the condition must be chronic–it must last for at least several months without significant improvement using standard treatment. Second, the condition must commonly occur with other pain conditions. Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) commonly meet both these standards.
Most cases of TMJ are temporary and resolve on their own with some home care, but others may last for months or years. When people have these long-lasting forms of TMJ, they often experience other pain conditions at the same time. As much as 75% of people with these types of TMJ have overlapping COPCs. And it’s not uncommon for people to have multiple COPCs with TMJ. In fact, 8% of people with TMJ have four or more COPCs.
The COPCS most likely to overlap with TMJ are:
Chronic lower back pain (30%)
Irritable bowel syndrome (24%)
Interstitial cystitis (13%)
Chronic fatigue syndrome (8%)
Of course, we recognize migraines immediately as a common symptom linked to TMJ. We can clearly point to the mechanisms that link TMJ to migraines. For the others, the link is less clear.
Will Treating TMJ Help?
So how are all these pain conditions linked? One of the theories is that the conditions are linked by central sensitization–the pain centers of the brain become oversensitive. They begin to register sensations that aren’t pain as if they were pain. The effect is that even a gentle touch can become painful.
If this is true, then one of the goals of treatment when a COPC develops is to try to stop it from triggering the sensitization of the brain. How can we do this? Basically, we try to reduce the pain associated with the condition so that it won’t trigger sensitization.
This adds more urgency to getting TMJ treatment when the condition first appears. The longer TMJ goes untreated, the more likely it is to cause sensitization and therefore potentially trigger other COPCs. We already know that rapid treatment of TMJ is beneficial because it protects the jaw joint from degenerative disease that may require surgery to treat later.
So, although it is reasonable to wait a week or two to see if TMJ will resolve on its own, it is otherwise a very good idea to get treatment for your TMJ as soon as possible.
Let Us Discover Whether TMJ Treatment Will Help
Are you looking for TMJ treatment in River Edge, NJ? Let us help. Please call (201) 343-4044 today for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Marlen Martirossian at the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.