Pain in Neck and Jaw
Written by: Jamie Sheehan, B.S., OMSII
Medically reviewed by: Ying H. Chen, D.O., FACOS
Neck and Jaw Pain: What Is the Connection?
Due to their close anatomical proximity, neck pain and jaw pain are often correlated. Many ligaments and jaw muscles have attachments to the neck. Therefore, if a jaw ligament or muscle has increased tension, the muscles in the neck can become affected and stretched. This reciprocal effect can cause pain in both the neck and jaw joints.
A significant cause of neck and jaw pain is disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ is an essential joint jaw movement responsible for many functions such as mastication (chewing), yawning, swallowing, and speaking.
The TMJ connects the lower jaw bone called the mandible to a part of your skull called the temporal bone. This joint is located bilaterally just in front of the ears.
When muscles or ligaments around the TMJ are inflamed or irritated, temporomandibular disorders (TMD) can occur, such as TMJ disorder. Currently, a prevalence of 31% of American adults have TMD, the majority being women. TMD can be divided into several categories: joint and disc disorders, masticatory (chewing) muscle disorders, and headaches.
Arthritis, disc dislocation at the TMJ (lower jaw), bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching), an improper bite, stress, trauma, genetics, and a combination of these can contribute to the neck and jaw pain commonly found in TMD.
In addition to neck and jaw pain, other symptoms of TMD can include earaches, jaw clicking, popping, locking, headaches, and more. The treatment for TMD can consist of more conservative techniques such as rest, exercise, eating soft foods, physical therapy, and using ice/hot packs.
Furthermore, injections such as Botulinum Toxin (Botox) and pain medications can be used. If non-surgical techniques are not relieving the patient’s pain or symptoms, non-conservative measures like surgery can be discussed between the physician and the patient as a treatment option.
If you are experiencing neck or jaw pain, contact us today at OrthoNeuro! Our expert physicians will accurately diagnose the source of your pain and create a treatment plan that is specific to you.
Neck and jaw pain can also be due to misalignment in your cervical spine (neck) or in your TMJ. Many disorders can cause misalignment or asynchronous movements in these areas, including scoliosis or Text Neck Syndrome, malocclusion (improper bite), and trauma to the jaw, neck, or head.
Misaligned muscles, ligaments, or bones such as the mandible (jawbone) and temporal bone can cause pain and similar symptoms of TMD. Physical therapy and various exercises can help with misalignment (poor neck posture) and correct or relieve neck and jaw pain. In severe cases, surgery may also be a viable option.
Research demonstrates that life and psychological stressors can contribute to various areas of pain. For example, clenching your jaw during times of stress or anxiety can cause tension in muscles that contribute to a person’s neck or jaw pain.
Adjusting one’s coping mechanisms and learning relaxation techniques can help to alleviate these symptoms. If the source of a person’s neck or jaw pain is stress, surgery is not a treatment option.
Another source of neck and jaw pain can be bone spurs, also called osteophytes. Bone spurs are projections of bone usually found in places where forces are applied, such as between joints or on your vertebra. With age, the cartilage that protects your bone and joints can degenerate, causing bone to touch bone. Bone responds to this stress by forming more bone which can lead to bone spurs.
Bone spurs in the cervical spine can cause spinal stenosis, which can cause compression of nerve roots. When cervical nerves are compressed, pain signals are sent to the neck. If the stenosis or symptoms are severe enough, surgery may be necessary. The surgery includes removing the osteophyte to decompress the nerve and relieve the pain and other related symptoms.
Are you experiencing pain in the jaw and neck? Get down to the bottom of it by calling our highly skilled team of healthcare professionals at OrthoNeuro. Call us or schedule an appointment online today!
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