Orofacial pain affects the mouth, jaw, face, head and neck. It can be debilitating and severely impact the quality of one’s life, affecting daily living functions such as chewing, swallowing, talking and laughing.
Headaches, toothaches, jaw pain, burning sensations, and TMJ pain are just a few examples of how millions suffer from orofacial pain, and up to 10 percent of these patients deal with chronic orofacial pain, lasting anywhere from six months to years.
“Chronic orofacial pain is a complex condition,” explained Junad Khan, B.D.S., M.P.H., Ph.D., program director for the Orofacial Pain Residency Program at UR Medicine’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health. He and a team of experts are actively studying the science surrounding chronic pain, and are finding interesting connections related to exercise.
Scientists have long known that exercise has multiple benefits, including alleviating pain. The phenomenon of pain reduction after exercise is known as exercise induced hypoalgesia, or EIH.
Dr. Khan and his team believe that an individual’s capacity for EIH, or their EIH profile, can indicate how efficiently their body modulates pain, ultimately causing the suppression of pain.
“Our research has shown that the level of hypoalgesia—the decreased sensitivity to painful stimuli—induced by exercise can help us recognize who is at risk for developing chronic pain following injury or trauma,” said Dr. Khan, whose studies have been published recently in Journal of Pain, Journal of Oral & Facial Pain and Headaches, and Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology and Oral Radiology.
In one study, Dr. Khan found that animals displaying the least amount of pain sensitivity after exercise were less likely to develop chronic pain.
“The results suggest that exercise could be a valuable component in helping healthcare providers predict susceptibility to pain, particularly following injury or surgery,” said Dr. Khan, who led the study with Eli Eliav, D.M.D., Ph.D., director of Eastman Institute for Oral Health, and a leading scientist in this area. “We are now studying the efficacy of drugs based on EIH profiles and what roles age and gender may play.”
Dr. Khan and Dr. Eliav hope the findings from this study and ongoing research will support the development of individual pain management, including possibly changing one’s pain profile.
“By identifying who is at high risk to develop chronic pain,” said Dr. Khan, adding that current treatment modalities can take several weeks to find an effective medication, “we can intervene much earlier and make a significant difference in finding pain relief more timely and more effectively for patients.”
For more information about the research, or about Eastman’s Orofacial Pain and TMJ Disorders Clinic, please contact 585-275-5018.