If you’re enduring TMJ disorder and neck pain, then you’re in good company. Your neck, shoulder, and jaw joints (TMJ) are among the most complex in your body, and intimately affect each other.
Over 11 million Americans suffer from some form of TMJ disorder, with its associated symptoms like:
- Ear pain
- Facial pain
- Sensitive muscles of the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
Does TMJ cause neck pain?
If you have neck or shoulder pain that is worse when your TMJ symptoms are flared-up, then it is likely caused by your jaw problem. Reasons for this include:
- Referred pain from the temporomandibular disorder (TMD)
- Neck muscle tension from bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Hypertonic (tight) muscles of the neck and shoulder as a reaction to the facial pain
There are a few things to look for that may indicate your neck pain is being caused by your temporomandibular joint disorder.
First, pay attention to when your neck pain occurs. Is it worse in the morning, after chewing or yawning, or at the end of the day? If so, TMJ may be the culprit.
Next, does massage at your jaw or temples provide any relief? If yes, again, this could be a sign that your TMD is causing referred pain in your neck muscles.
And finally, is your pain worse on one side of your neck or head? If so, this is another possible indicator that your TMJ is to blame.
TMJ disorders often involve the recruitment of other muscles
A TMJ neck ache might also result from lower jaw issues related to rheumatoid arthritis, joint hypermobility, or poor posture. (1)
TMJ and TMD
The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull. TMJ disorder (TMD) is a condition that can cause pain and dysfunction in these joints.
Common symptoms can include
- jaw pain,
- a clicking sound when opening or closing the jaw, and
- limited jaw movement.
TMJ disorder is often caused by overexertion of the jaw muscles, inflammation of the TMJ joint, or injury to the jaw – like a previous jaw dislocation.
TMJ disorder may even play a role in getting migraines, but more solid research is needed on this.
One thing is certain – and that is, stress and anxiety play a role for many people in developing TMJ-related neck and shoulder pain, due to the physical expression of stress – muscle tension, teeth grinding, and headaches, to name a few. [Read more on stress and TMJ here.]
How is TMD usually treated?
Treatment for TMJ disorder typically focuses on relieving pain and restoring normal jaw function. Jaw pain is often treated with physical therapy or chiropractic care, because conservative therapy may be a beneficial treatment option for patients with TMJ dysfunction. (2)
- Physical therapists will use such techniques to relieve jaw pain as manual therapy, home exercises, and massage. They may also use heat or ice packs, and electrical stimulation.
- Chiropractors will use a variety of techniques to help relieve jaw pain, including adjustments, and massage at the pterygoid and temporalis muscles inside your mouth near your back teeth.
- Gradually returning your body to good posture can relieve the symptoms of TMJ pain, because the surrounding muscles of your head and jaw will have less tension on them.
- It’s a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider about the many options available for conservative TMD treatment, like seeing a physical therapist or chiro.
What if I have severe TMJ neck pain
If home remedies and self-care haven’t helped, your doctor may recommend night guard splints or other mouth guards. These devices help support the jaw, protect your teeth, and prevent it from moving in harmful ways i.e in the case of bruxism.
In severe cases, TMJ surgery under general anaesthetic may be necessary if the joint has become damaged and arthritic.
Pain on swallowing
TMJ and neck pain can occur when swallowing, because
- You generally clench your jaw slightly when swallowing (even with soft foods) which can irritate an active TMJ issue
- You may have pain referring upward to the face and jaw, from tight neck muscles
There are a few things you can do to help alleviate pain when swallowing:
- Choose softer foods that require less chewing, and cut your food into small pieces
- Avoid gum and hard candy
- Moisten your food, e.g with sauces
- Chew slowly and evenly on both sides of your mouth, or avoid the sore jaw side
- Rest between bites, and don’t rush your meals
When it comes to the Crunch
Consider how chronic your temporomandibular joint disorder is.
Over time, TMD sufferers encounter new areas of pain because the TMJ are complex joints, neurologically. If you have new neck pain, shoulder pain, or headache, it could be your TMJ issue worsening.
Have you experienced TMJ and neck or shoulder pain? Let us know about what triggers or relieving factors you found, in the comments below
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1. Assessment of craniocervical posture in TMJ disorders using lateral radiographic view: A cross-sectional study
Tatu E. Joy , MDS, PhD ,S. Tanuja , MDS,Rahul R. Pillai , MDS,P. Redwin Dhas Manchil , MDS & Rajesh Raveendranathan , BDS, MICCMO The Journal of Craniomandibular & Sleep Practice, Volume 39, 2021 – Issue 5
2. Outcomes of physical therapy in patients with temporomandibular disorder: a retrospective review
Gabriela Fisch, Ashley Finke, John Ragonese, Lara Dugas, Mariusz Wrzosek British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Volume 59, Issue 2, February 2021