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  • Writer's pictureNashville PT

TMJ Pain: Understanding the Causes and Connection to the Neck and Headaches.


woman with TMJ pain lying in bed

Do you often experience jaw pain, clicking sounds, or headaches? These symptoms could be signs of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. TMJ pain can be uncomfortable and affect your daily life, but the good news is that there are treatment options available. In this blog post, we'll delve into the causes of TMJ pain, explore the connection between the TMJ and the cervical spine (neck), and discuss how physical therapy can can be incredibly effective in providing relief.


Understanding TMJ Pain


The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull, allowing you to speak, chew, and yawn. When this joint becomes inflamed or misaligned, it can result in TMJ pain. Various factors contribute to TMJ pain, including:


1. Jaw misalignment: If the position of your jaw is not properly aligned, it can strain the TMJ and lead to pain and discomfort.


2. Teeth grinding or clenching: Habitual grinding or clenching of teeth, known as bruxism, can put excessive pressure on the TMJ, causing pain and stiffness.


3. Arthritis: Inflammatory conditions like arthritis can affect the TMJ, resulting in pain, swelling, and limited jaw movement.


4. Stress and tension: Stress and anxiety often lead to clenching of the jaw and tightening of facial muscles, which can contribute to TMJ pain.


The Connection Between TMJ and the Cervical Spine


Did you know that the TMJ and the cervical spine (neck) are closely connected? The position and movement of the jaw can impact the alignment and function of the cervical spine, and vice versa. If there are issues in the cervical spine, such as poor posture, misalignment, or muscle imbalances, it can affect the TMJ and contribute to TMJ pain. Similarly, TMJ dysfunction can cause referred pain and discomfort in the neck and shoulders and even headaches. Addressing both the TMJ and cervical spine in treatment can yield better outcomes and comprehensive relief.


Common Symptoms of TMJ Pain


TMJ pain presents with a variety of symptoms, which may include:


1. Jaw pain or soreness, especially during chewing or speaking.

2. Clicking, popping, or grinding sounds when opening or closing the mouth.

3. Limited jaw movement or difficulty opening the mouth wide.

4. Headaches or earaches.

5. Facial pain or tenderness.

6. Lockjaw, where the jaw becomes temporarily stuck in an open or closed position.


How Physical Therapy Can Help


Physical therapy is an effective approach to manage and alleviate TMJ pain. A skilled physical therapist can evaluate your condition, consider the connection between the TMJ and cervical spine, and create a personalized treatment plan tailored to your needs. Here's how physical therapy can help:


1. Manual therapy techniques: Hands-on techniques can be used to mobilize and align the TMJ and cervical spine, reducing pain and improving function.


2. Strengthening and stretching exercises: Specific exercises can target the jaw and neck muscles to improve stability, mobility, and reduce tension.


3. Posture correction: Your physical therapist will address posture issues that contribute to TMJ pain and provide guidance on maintaining proper alignment.


4. Relaxation techniques: Stress management techniques, such as breathing exercises and relaxation training, can help reduce jaw and muscle tension.


5. Education and lifestyle modifications: Your physical therapist will educate you about habits and activities that may aggravate TMJ pain and suggest modifications to minimize discomfort.


TMJ pain can disrupt your daily life, but you don't have to suffer in silence. Seek the assistance of a qualified physical therapist with expertise in TMJ treatment. By addressing the causes, considering the connection between the TMJ and the cervical spine, and implementing targeted therapies, you can find relief and regain control of your jaw function and overall well-being.


Remember, every individual's condition is unique, so it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.


At Nashville PT, we have multiple therapists who treat TMJ pain. Give us a call to set up your appointment today!


References


1. American Physical Therapy Association. (n.d.). Temporomandibular joint disorders. Retrieved from https://www.choosept.com/symptomsconditionsdetail/physical-therapy-guide-to-tmj

2. Mayo Clinic. (2021). TMJ disorders. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tmj/symptoms-causes/syc-20350941

3. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. (2021). TMJ disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/Topics/TMJ/TMJDisorders.htm

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