Other Symptoms of TMD Jaw and Neck Pain
If I’ve discovered anything about TMD jaw and neck pain, it is that two people are never the same.
Temporomandibular joint (aka jaw or TMJ) conditions have an extremely wide variety of symptoms associated with them. TMD, or temporomandibular dysfunction, occurs when your jaw joints are not moving the way that they are supposed to.
Normally, your jaw is meant to work as a double hinge. However, if you have a problem with the alignment or structure of your jaw, it can put pressure on your joints, leading to pain or other symptoms.
In addition, what many people do NOT realise about the TMJ is that the nerves that control how it moves are located in the upper neck, aka the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) vertebrae or upper cervical region.
In other words, your upper neck has a HUGE effect on TMD jaw and neck pain!
In this article, I want to briefly mention a few of the many symptoms that can be associated with TMD jaw and neck pain … and then specifically what you can do about them.
Clicking or popping of the jaw
Let’s start with some of the obvious or easy ones.
Clicking or popping of the jaw means that your TMJ is not moving properly. Normally, your jaw opens in a straight, smooth line.
However, if the nerve signals that coordinate the muscles that allow you jaw to open or close are NOT entirely in sync, your jaw can start to click or pop.
On the inside of your jaw joint is a thin but dense slip of cartilage. It is actually similar to the cartilage in your knee, just much smaller. Its purpose is to help your jaw move smoothly so that it is not bone rubbing on bone.
This cartilage is rubbed unevenly for long enough, it can flick over the bony surfaces, and make a “clicking” noise. It is not necessarily painful, but can certainly be annoying and is DEFINITELY an early sign that something is wrong with the alignment and motion of your jaw.
It is important to mention that the nerve control centers located in your neck are responsible for processing the information about how your jaw muscles are able to move. Therefore, when there is a problem with the alignment or movement in your upper neck, it can actually be the source of the clicking or popping of the jaw!
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Tooth grinding or clenching
“Bruxism” is the fancy word for tooth grinding or clenching. Similar to clicking or popping, where there is a mechanical issue that causes your jaw or chewing muscles to be excessively tight, this can result in TMD jaw or neck pain.
You may not even be aware that you are doing it until your dentist says something!
Often, people attributed tooth grinding or clenching to stress. Well, yes and no. Stress may certainly aggravate things, but it is not the cause of tooth grinding or clenching.
For many people, tooth grinding or clenching happens when they sleep, which is why their dentist recommends a splint or similar device. One of the major ways that your neck could be involved is because when you sleep, certain positions may actually aggravate your jaw nerves and muscles, which would produce the tightness in the first place.
Muscles in your body only do what they are told to do. If you want to know WHY you have tight muscles - the underlying CAUSE - you need to understand what is happening to the nerve that controls them.
Lockjaw is an extreme example of what happens when your jaw muscles tighten. Now, let’s consider why this may happen.
Lockjaw is a type of muscle spasm that occurs when the mechanical gears that allow you jaw to open get locked. The question is, “Why would your muscles go into spasm?”
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In other words, your brain-body is trying to PROTECT you from something even worse. It is a process called “muscle splinting.” It is a spasm that occurs to prevent further damage.
Usually, when lockjaw occurs it is because the ligaments that support the structure of your jaw have been compromised. Ligaments are what holds things together.
The thing with ligaments is that they don’t always snap. They can fray from chronic overuse … or misuse. And when that happens, your brain will call on your muscles to protect your jaw from further damage.
Even if the spasm and lockjaw subside, this should definitely be a warning sign that there is something that has gone wrong with your neck to cause such TMD jaw or neck pain.
Put your finger on your jaw.
(You will know that you are in the right place because when you open and close your mouth, you will feel it move underneath your skin).
Do you see just how close you are to your ear? In fact, when people experience TMD jaw or neck pain, it can actually refer deeper inside and cause them to feel like that earache or even a blocked ear feeling.
In addition, if you were to move your finger even 1cm sideways, you would actually be touching the tip of your C1 vertebra at the base of your brainstem.
Very frequently, what people describe as earaches is actually a TMJ problem … but when people actually point to the epicenter of their pain or earache, what they are actually pointing to is the tip of the C1 vertebra, and they don’t even know it!
Considering that the two structures are so close to each other, it is a completely understandable mistake. Nevertheless, it demonstrates just another way that the TMD jaw and neck pain can be so closely related not just neurologically, but also physically!
The classic type of TMJ headache is located in your temples at the side of your head.
This type of headache may closely mimic a so-called “stress” or “tension headache” that travels up the back of your head and wraps around the side of your temples.
(It is my experience that many tension headaches are actually the direct result of a problem with the C2 vertebra and nerve, which follows that exact pathway.)
Especially if you chew gum, these types of headaches are amplified by clenching or grinding.
Despite the common belief, there is no such thing as a “normal headache.” Any headache is the result of radiating pain into your head and brain … no small matter. Certainly, you can always continue to mask the symptoms with medication.
However, if there is an underlying physical cause from your upper neck, wouldn’t you agree that is made much more sense if you are able to resolve the cause than just treating the effects?
The same thing goes with neck pain. Neck pain is not a normal thing even as you get older.
To illustrate, we see many people who have necks riddled with arthritis … but all they feel is some stiffness in the morning. On the other hand, we also see people who have almost no physical damage at all … but they are in agony!
So, there is not necessarily a link between arthritis, age, and neck pain.
The cause of neck pain - especially if it is sharp - is also not simply a matter of too much computer work. Certainly, repetitive stress movements such as computer work (and also benchtop work) do aggravate your neck and can lead to TMD jaw and neck pain.
However, there is often an underlying mechanical issue that sets the stage for additional problems when used to excess.
Neck pain is again another one of those COMMON things that happen in people … but be careful not to confuse “common” with “normal.”
Neck pain is NOT normal.
When you experience TMD jaw or neck pain and difficulty chewing, it is a signal that the ligaments that support your jaw are being stretched.
Think of it like poking a bruise from chronic overuse.
If you experience difficulty chewing and it hurts when you open your jaw, the fancy term is likely capsulitis, which occurs when the ligaments around your jaw are stretched too wide open.
If you experience difficulty chewing and it hurts when you close your jaw, the fancy term is likely bursitis, which occurs when the joint surfaces (and cartilage) are compressed.
Swelling on the side of the face
Swelling on the side of the face can be caused by a number of different conditions. If it is related to TMD jaw or neck pain, then most likely you also experience at least one of these other symptoms as well.
Of note, if you are experiencing a fever when experiencing swelling on the side of the face, this could be a medical emergency. So don’t delay.
However, if your tests check out clear, then swelling on the side of the face could be linked with asymmetrical muscle tone as a consequence of overuse and fatigue in the muscles.
A tired feeling in the face
A tried feel in the face can also be related to a number of conditions and requires assessment and testing to tell the difference.
In brief, the muscles of the face are controlled by a series of different nerves. If there is a sense of fatigue or droopiness of certain muscles around the eye or lips, it could mean that multiple nerve pathways are involved.
And depending on the levels involved it may be possible that multiple different symptoms have a common underlying cause.
This is the profound importance especially of what happens in the upper back of your neck with the alignment of the C1 and C2 vertebrae.
Because these vertebrae influence blood flow to-and-from your brainstem, which is the master control center of your entire body, almost any symptom you can imagine is possible.
TMD jaw and neck pain are simply too of the most common.
Pain or tenderness in the neck, shoulder and around the ear
TMD jaw and neck pain are not necessarily limited to pain or tenderness in the neck, shoulders, or even around the ear.
In fact, many TMJ and upper neck disorders have been linked with fibromyalgia, which is the sensation of full-body pain and fatigue that can absolutely dominate a person’s life.
Researchers believe that changes in the myofascial structure of the body (i.e., muscles, ligaments, and nerve receptors) can manifest trigger points throughout the entire body, thereby producing nor only pain or tenderness in the neck, shoulders or even around the ear, but everywhere!
Certainly, there are often more dynamics at play with a syndrome just as fibromyalgia. Nevertheless, the integrity of the TMJ and upper neck and two of the key players that should be considered at the top of the list
Not necessarily vertigo, but certainly a sense of disequilibrium, dizziness, or even anxiety is yet another common symptom of TMD jaw and neck pain. How is that possible?
Do you remember that cartilage that we mentioned on the inside of your jaw joint? Well, it is loaded with nerve receptors. There are three particular receptors that you should know about:
- Nociceptors. These are the pain receptors that we mentioned that can be responsible for TMD jaw and neck pain, earaches, and headaches.
- Mechanoreceptors. These are the pressure-and-tension receptors that tell your brain if your jaw is moving properly and that can be responsible for detecting clicking, grinding, popping, or even lockjaw.
- Proprioceptors. These are the balance and position-sense receptors that tell your brain where your body is in open space and that can be responsible for dizziness.
Proprioceptors are especially dense in the upper part of your neck (most notably in the muscles and joints that support the C1 and C2 vertebrae) and also in the TMJ. Especially if the joints are compressed, dizziness can be a common result.
It can also be especially frustrating for people who go to vertigo specialists, ENTs, etc and have all kinds of MRIs taken of the inner ear, but “everything appears normal.”
If so, it is always important to rule out pathological brain conditions. After that, however, it is important to consider the role of the TMJ and the upper neck is vestibular conditions as well, because they very well may be the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Tinnitus may be similar to dizziness in how it related to TMD jaw and neck pain.
If there is physical pressure affecting those mechanoreceptors, that information will be relayed to your brain. However, if your brain is bombarded with an excess volume of abnormal information, some of it may “spillover” into adjacent areas of your brain, including the auditory portion.
The consequence is that you can develop a strange sort of ringing or buzzing noise that cab range from a minor annoyance to completely debilitating.
Specifically, this is a type of dining known as “somatosensory tinnitus,” as opposed to industrial noise damage (something that an audiologist would be able to identify).
How do you know if there is a link between your TMJ, your neck, and tinnitus? It is if the volume or pitch of the sound ever changes when you are moving your head or jaw.
Where do I go for help for my TMD jaw or neck pain?
Really, we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to the far-reaching effects of TMD jaw and neck pain, and how the function of your jaw is intimately connected with the function and alignment of your upper neck.
In truth for many people with TMD jaw and neck pain, they actually require not just one specialist, but a combination of different practitioners working collaboratively to help you achieve the most relief possible.
At Atlas Health Australia, our focus is on helping people with chronic health ailments - especially when people feel like they have “been everywhere else but no one can figure out what is going on” - so that they can restore their health and discover long term solutions so that they can enjoy the quality of life that they desire.
Our role is in the relationship between your upper neck and how it affects your TMJ. Our area of experience is in the alignment of the upper neck - the C1 (atlas ) and C2 (axis) vertebrae.
The way that we help people is by performing in-depth analysis to identify the exact direction and degree or any misalignments in your neck, and then making a series of very precise corrections for the ultimate purpose of aiding your body do what it is designed to do on its own: heal itself naturally and without the need for medication or surgery just to treat the effects.
Our principal is Dr. Jeffrey Hannah, who is an advanced certified chiropractic doctor in the field of Blair upper cervical care. Dr. Hannah is an international lecturer, author, and recognised leader in the field of upper cervical care.
To discuss your condition and ask any questions you have with Dr. Hannah so that you can decide if Blair upper cervical care may be right for you, we are happy to offer a complimentary 15-minute over the phone consultation.
To accept this no-obligation offer, you can click the Contact Us, or alternatively call us direct at our office: 07 3188 9329.
We hope this information has been valuable to you. And if the message has resonated with you and you would like to seek out assistance to help you with your TMD jaw or neck pain, it would be our privilege to assist you.
Atlas Health Australia - “Hope, healing, and wellbeing from above-down, inside-out.”
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