Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that produces widespread pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints. The pain, muscle spasms and tingling it causes can disrupt sleep, alter moods and impair memory function.
Dealing with just this one condition can be overwhelming. But did you know 3 out 4 fibromyalgia patients also develop chronic pain and dysfunction involving their jaw joints? Known collectively as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), these jaw joint problems cause pain, muscle spasms and difficulty moving the jaws that can interfere with eating and speaking. TMD can also contribute to headaches and earaches.
Many researchers believe this prevalence of TMD among fibromyalgia patients stems from both conditions originating from the same primary cause—a malfunction within the central nervous system. In both cases, the brain and spinal cord may not be able to process pain signals in a normal fashion. This malfunction could also be generating and amplifying pain signals even when nerves are receiving no stimulation.
For decades now, the most effective treatment strategy for TMD has been to manage the symptoms with physical therapy and exercises, thermal therapy or medications. Relief for fibromyalgia has depended on medication and relaxation techniques like biofeedback therapy. But with the evidence of some connection between the two conditions, it may be helpful to coordinate treatment for both with a team approach involving all your healthcare providers, rather than treat them separately.
To that end, make sure both your dentist or physician treating you for TMD and your physician treating your fibromyalgia each know about the other condition. Consulting together, your healthcare team may find treatments (like certain drugs that counteract neurotransmitter imbalances) that might help reduce symptoms in both conditions. And cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation and other therapeutic pain management techniques can help you cope with the pain.
Continued research into these two debilitating conditions and the possible links between them may have an effect on how we treat both. A holistic approach to treating them could be the wave of the future.
If you would like more information on the links between TMD and other chronic pain conditions, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”