The Neck Pain and TMJ Connection

Today’s blog post comes from Dr. Matt Bellinger’s Chiropractic newsletter that he mails to his patients monthly. A chiropractor in Glastonbury, Dr. Bellinger is dedicated to treating chronic conditions such as neck pain and lower back pain.

If you have ever suffered with jaw pain, then you also suffered with neck pain as well. The two are structurally related as we shall see.

The jaw (frequently referred to as the TMJ) is associated with neck function, especially the upper cervical vertebrae. The muscles that move the jaw/TMJ are largely innervated by the 5th cranial nerve, also called the trigeminal nerve. Several studies have found that when stimulating structures innervated by the trigeminal nerve, neck and/or jaw pain was created and vise versa.

Similarly, patients with jaw problems (called temporomandibular dysfunction or, TMD) often report neck pain. When we open our mouth wide, head-neck extension always occurs followed by head-flexion when we close the jaw. Hence, the neck is always moving when we chew, yawn, talk, and clench our teeth. In fact, all of these every day activities result in jaw, head, neck motion extending from the base of the skull and first cervical vertebra (occiput-C1) and continues down through the entire cervical spine.

This was investigated in a study where the relationship between neck symptoms, jaw function – specifically active mouth opening, and pressure pain sensitivity in a trigeminal nerve innervated region after a spinal manipulation was applied to the upper neck vertebrae. Here, 37 female patients with neck pain were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups (control and experimental) and, before and after treatment, exams of mouth opening and pressure pain levels were measured. The group receiving the upper neck manipulation showed a significant increase in active mouth opening motion as well as improved pressure pain tolerance compared to the control/non-manipulation group in a sample of woman with neck pain.

This study is very important as many people suffer from neck pain, headaches and TMD. In order to properly treat these patients, one must focus on multiple regions, not just the neck area. It has been demonstrated when we bite down, there is a corresponding tightening of two important muscles in the neck and upper back region.

Similarly, studies show relaxation of muscles in the neck, upper back and TMJ after spinal manipulation to the neck is applied. Injuries to the TMJ are common but often not pursued by patients as often they’ll say, “my jaw clicks and snaps but I don’t think about it much.”

Additional Reading Resources

Photo Source: New England Dental

Visit Arc 4 Life for your online selection of cervical support neck pillows, orthopedic pain relief products, lower back supports and cushions.

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I woke up with a terrible pain in my neck when I move it. Must have fallen asleep in bad position. Help?

Question:This morning I woke up and when I move my neck I have a terrible pain!! I know I must have fallen asleep in a bad position but it has never hurt so bad. I can't look both sides. I have to keep my head tilted down. If I lift it up straight, it hurts terribly. It hurts to try to get my head on the pillow. Has this happened to any of you?? Will Tylenol help?? I hate taking meds unless I think it really works! HELP!

Answer: Yes, this happens to everybody at some time in their life. Sometimes sleeping in an awkward position strains our neck muscles to the point that it causes stiffness and pain. Sleeping on a couch or in a weird position is not healthy for ones neck. My recommendation would be to use a heating pack and also do to neck stretches. Right now, you may not be able to move your head too much- but only do the stretches to the point of feeling a stretch, not to the point of pain. The best thing would be do them while having a hot shower (let the water hit the back of the neck and upper back), as this will help to loosen up the muscles.

The Linear Gravity Neck Pillow is a Cervical Support Neck Pillow Also, you should get a good neck pillow to sleep on. Specifically one that will align your head and neck in a good position for sleeping. Check out Arc 4 Life’s Linear Gravity Neck Pillow- This is a great cervical support pillow. It has two different neck rolls for you too choose from. A pillow that does not give you support or one that raises your head too much can cause neck pain and stiffness in the morning. It is tough to find the right balance, but very important for getting a good nights sleep. Sleeping on a supportive neck pillow is also good for your neck posture.

Also, you should work on the tight muscles of your neck- use a pain relief gel like ben gay or biofreeze to alleviate the pain.

I think that taking the Tylenol may help you temporarily- but this is not a long term solution at all, so I do not recommend it. If you want to use a natural muscle relaxer, try Formula 303

Finally, I highly recommend that you see a chiropractor. They will be able to some gentle mobilization on your cervical spine and check to see if you have a misalignment. They can do therapy in the office as well ( like heat, ice or e-stim). Trigger point therapy will also be beneficial for you.

Hope this helps.

Additional Reading Resources:

Visit Arc4life.com for your online selection of cervical support neck pillows, orthopedic pain relief products and Home traction units. Products for pain relief.

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