We’ve said before that the exact mechanism by which TMJ triggers migraines is uncertain. However, the problem isn’t just linked to TMJ–many migraine causes are mysterious. Nor is it only causes that are mysterious–some treatments baffle us, too, in their mechanism. This includes the increasingly popular use of BOTOX® injections to treat migraines

We thought we understood how the treatment worked, but a new study suggests a more complicated explanation for why the injections can stop migraines. 

Muscle Tension: The Old Explanation

woman winces at the pain in her jaw

The primary function of BOTOX® injections, whether for cosmetic or therapeutic purposes, is to relax muscles. It induces what is known as flaccid paralysis–your muscles relax in part because they can’t receive signals from the nerves. This helps calm spasms and the tension that causes facial wrinkles. 

It was also thought to be why BOTOX ® relieves migraines: it stops the muscle tension that can potentially overwhelm the trigeminal nerve, setting off the cascade that triggers migraines. 

This was also the explanation for why TMJ treatment could reduce or eliminate migraine headaches. It reduces tension in jaw, face, and neck muscles which could lead to migraines. 

What about Central Sensitization?

However, as our understanding of migraines evolves, our understanding of how treatment works has to evolve, too. Now many scientists advocate grouping migraines into a category called chronic overlapping pain conditions (COPC). Because these pain conditions, which afflict the entire body, often occur together, some think the problem isn’t in the jaw, the head, or the back, it’s in the brain. 

The theory is that the brain, after getting hit by pain signals for a while, it gets sensitized to them, and starts to interpret non-pain signals as pain. This is why people experience chronic ongoing pain even if it seems that there’s no reason why they should feel pain. 

In a new study, researchers propose that BOTOX® injections could also work this way to prevent migraines. That’s because, researchers say, there are also nerves located in the muscles where BOTOX® gets injected. These injections decrease the sensitivity of the nerves. This prevents pain signals from being formed and therefore keeps the brain from getting overwhelmed by pain signals. This in turn decreases sensitization, leading to fewer migraines. 

Does This Change the TMJ-Migraine Connection?

Looking at the new explanation, people might wonder if this means that TMJ treatment might not be as effective at reducing migraines. However, this explanation changes our understanding of the mechanism, but not the effectiveness of TMJ treatment for migraine relief. If anything, central sensitization strengthens the link between TMJ and migraine

In the past, we believed that reducing muscle tension would reduce migraines. However, now we might accept that reducing jaw pain might be the main way that TMJ treatment reduces migraines. In either case, TMJ treatment remains an effective approach for relieving migraine pain without drugs and without injections. 

We also want to note that although the central sensitization model of migraines is currently increasing in popularity, it’s not established science by any means. Migraines remain mysterious, and probably will for years to come. 

Drug-Free Pain Relief

We have seen how effective TMJ treatment can be for migraine relief. Many of our patients have seen their migraines decrease in frequency and intensity after getting TMJ treatment. 

If you would like to learn how TMJ treatment might be migraine treatment in Denver, please call (303) 691-0267 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.