Stress isn’t just a psychological symptom, it’s a biochemical response to our environment, and some of us experience it much worse than others. It turns out that some of the same chemical triggers that make stress worse for some people might also contribute to the development of chronic pain conditions like arthritis and TMJ.
Blocking Stress in Arthritic Mice
The link is a particular protein in mice, known as FKBP51. Previous studies have established that variations on the FKBP5 gene, which controls the production of the protein, contribute to the risk of mood disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. They’ve also shown that different variations of this gene can contribute to the amount of pain a person experiences after physical trauma.
Now researchers at the University College of London have shown that FKBP51 plays a crucial role in the chronic pain response to arthritis and nerve damage. Researchers took mice who have been modified not to produce FKBP51 and showed that they responded less to chronic pain.
They evidenced less pain and were more mobile than other mice with similar injury status
Then researchers looked at normal mice treated with a drug that blocks FKBP51. This drug has been developed to help treat mood disorders, but, it was thought, might also help alleviate chronic pain. They found that mice taking this drug also had a reduced response to their chronic pain conditions.
Researchers were very excited that the use of a single treatment could help people who were suffering from stress disorders as well as those that had chronic pain.
What Is the Role of Stress in Your Pain?
For most people with TMJ or migraine, stress is an integral part of their condition. Stress can contribute to jaw clenching or other bad habits such as chewing nonfood items, such as fingernails or pens. These unhealthy jaw behaviors can stress the jaw joint and jaw muscles, leading to jaw pain and potential damage to the jaw joints (called the temporomandibular joints). The muscle tension can also overwhelm or put pressure on the trigeminal nerve, which is the trigger point for migraine headaches.
Many people don’t realize that their jaw pain is related to their headaches, or that a single treatment can help with both.
Although TMJ treatment can’t prevent you from developing stress, it can help reduce the impact of your stress response. By putting your jaw in a healthy position, TMJ treatment can reduce the amount of tension in your jaw muscles and reduce the potential for damage to your jaw joint, diminishing or eliminating jaw clenching and grinding.