“I‘ve heard that TMJ problems can cause headaches and neck pain. Is this true and what is the link between them?”

“I‘ve heard that TMJ problems can cause headaches and neck pain. Is this true and what is the link between them?”                 Janet R.

Actually, TMJ (tempro-mandibular joint) dysfunction, neck pain, and headaches commonly go hand in hand. First things first, place your fingers in front of either ear and open and close your mouth. The movement your are feeling is the TMJ working. This is one of the most used joints in the body that not only allows us to chew, talk, and move our jaw in several ways but also connects the jaw to the skull through a series of muscles and ligaments. Any misalignment of the TMJ can lead to clicking/popping when opening the mouth, pain and inflammation of the surrounding tissues, headaches, shoulder/cheek/jaw pain, neck aches, earaches, tooth pain, or even migraines.

Because the TMJ is the connection between the skull and the jaw, it is important that the skull is in proper alignment with the neck. A neck that has a less than optimal curve can predispose the TMJ to misalignment issues.  Over time, this can lead to uneven wear and tear due to the fact that the joint is used so often on a daily basis. The typical patient suffering from TMJ issues is a female with headaches, possible whiplash in the past, tight muscles in upper shoulders, and often stressed. In fact, the TMJ may be the problem and you may not have any pain in or around the joint.

How can this joint become misaligned? Oftentimes TMJ misalignment is the result of trauma. The cause of trauma can begin as early as the birthing process. Left uncorrected, compensations can occur in the body and eventually lead to loss of curve in the neck.  This can lead to the headaches characteristic of TMJ disorders. Whiplash injuries from car accidents can lead to TMJ misalignment in addition to the damages and misalignments occurring in the neck. Remember, the TMJ connects the head to the jaw and if the head is moved in a violent manner such as with whiplash, it makes perfect sense that the TMJ may become misaligned during the event. People that grind their teeth at night are also predisposed to TMJ misalignment issues.


So what’s the solution? The first step to resolving a TMJ problem is correcting any misalignments in the neck along with restoring the curve in the neck. This provides a balanced foundation for the skull to sit on and allows the TMJ to respond quicker to adjustments because it no longer has to compensate for the neck and skull being in improper alignment. As the neck is being corrected it will also take a series of adjustments on the TMJ designed properly align the joint.

Depending on the severity of misalignments of the neck and the length of time the TMJ has been out of place determines how quickly someone typically responds to care. There are also exercises used to strengthen the area as well as stress management techniques to help with those whose TMJ misalignments are the result of tension of the surrounding muscles of the face, neck, and jaw. If you or someone you know suspects that their TMJ may not be properly aligned, let us know. We’d be more than happy to help them correct their neck and TMJ problems.

 

Yours in health,

Dr. Kristin Nuccio Smith, DC

Sources: 

Friedman MH, Weisberg J. The craniocervical connection: a retrospective analysis of 300 whiplash patients with cervical and temporomandibular disorders. Cranio 2000 Jul; 18(3): 163-7.

 

O’Shaughnessy T. Craniomandibular/temporomandibular/cervical implications of a forced hyper-extension/hyper-flexion episode

(ie, whiplash). Funct Orthod 1994 Mar-Apr; 11(2): 5-10,12.

 

McKay DC, Christensen LV. Whiplash injuries of the temporomandibular joint in motor vehicle accidents: speculation and facts. J Oral Rehabil 1998 Oct; 25(10): 731-46.