The temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ or TMD) symptoms we talk about most are found in the head and neck. It’s just that our name is the Michigan Head and Neck Institute, and it’s also that these symptoms are the most common.
However, it’s also important to remember that TMJ symptoms can range throughout the body, sometimes with a surprising frequency. One of these surprising connections is between TMJ and lower back pain. Although the two locations are far apart, they have a strong connection that makes the occurrence of pain in both more than a coincidence. It also means that a Detroit TMJ dentist might be able to help you find relief from stubborn back pain.
Most People with TMJ Have Back Pain
In nationwide surveys, most people with TMJ report back pain. In one study, nearly two-thirds of people with TMJ reported lower back pain (64%). Although this is not as common as ear symptoms associated with TMJ, it is enough that it raises challenges in treating TMJ and ensuring TMJ patients have a good quality of life after treatment.
TMJ can also make it harder to treat back pain. In a study of people in Korea with spinal pain, researchers saw a significant impact of TMJ. People with TMJ required 68% more medical costs to treat, saw the doctor 78% more frequently, and took 67% longer to treat than other spinal pain patients.
People with Back Pain More Likely to Develop TMJ
Other studies show a strong connection in the other direction: people with back pain develop TMJ. In one large study, over 65,000 patients with lower back pain were matched with three times as many controls. This study showed that people with lower back pain were 1.5 times more likely to develop TMJ than the controls. The association of higher TMJ risk with back pain held up for all subgroups. However, people were also more likely to develop TMJ if they were young or had osteoporosis.
Researchers stressed the importance of treating TMJ and back pain together to achieve positive results for patients. So if you are seeing a doctor for your lower back pain, it makes sense to consider whether you might also benefit from a Detroit TMJ dentist.
Muscle Partnerships Can Explain the Association
In the study showing people with back pain were more likely to develop TMJ, researchers attempted to explain the connection. They looked at the way the body’s muscles work together. Previous research showed that people with lower back pain had difficulty recruiting neck muscles to help perform jaw-related tasks. This might be because these muscles are already committed to assisting the back. In any case, the inability to get help from the neck muscles increases the stress on the jaw muscles. This can lead to jaw dysfunction and TMJ.
This connection is not one-way. When the jaw is not in balance, it can recruit more help from neck muscles on one side than another. It can also pull the spinal column out of alignment. The misalignment doesn’t just develop in the neck, it cascades down the spinal column. This might explain why people with TMJ find it more difficult and expensive to treat spinal pain.
Central Sensitization Is Another Explanation
People with TMJ are 5.5 times more likely to report pain in other parts of the body than those without the condition. People with TMJ are also more likely to develop several other pain conditions, commonly called chronic overlapping pain conditions. These pain conditions commonly occur with each other, too. For example, people with migraines are also more likely to have lower back pain.
One explanation for the frequency of multiple pain sites is central sensitization. This theory states that if the body experiences enough chronic pain, it begins to anticipate pain. It then begins to interpret even non-pain signals as if they were pain. The theory is supported by some evidence, though not enough to make it conclusive.
Some versions of the central sensitization theory give TMJ a central role in the development of chronic pain. This might be related to the fact that pain from the jaw comes along the trigeminal nerve, the largest cranial nerve. Getting TMJ treatment in Detroit might help head off the development of other pain disorders.
TMJ Treatment Can Help Back Pain in Detroit
Although it might seem unlikely, the truth is that for some people, TMJ treatment in Detroit is an essential part of successfully managing back pain. If you have TMJ symptoms in addition to back pain, treating both conditions together can yield better results than treating either alone.
To learn how TMJ treatment can potentially help your back pain, please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online form to request an appointment at the Michigan Head and Neck Institute, serving the Detroit area from our office in Warren, MI.