Disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) may cause neck pain in up to 70% of those diagnosed with the jaw joint disorder. Likewise, a problem with the neck may cause pain in the jaw joint. Fortunately, patients suffering from mild discomfort from TMJ will find that lifestyle changes such as switching to soft foods temporarily, icing the jaw, or taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication are enough to mitigate pain. However, for others, chronic neck pain due to, or in conjunction with a disorder of the TMJ, may require treatment provided by a pain management specialist.
How are Pain in the Jaw Joint and Neck Pain Linked?
The jaw joint and the cervical spine muscles (neck) are intrinsically linked, meaning that a problem in the jaw joint will impact the neck, and vice versa. Studies point to a correlation between neck pain and disorders of the TMJ.
Consider that if any of the bones of the cervical spine are out of alignment, the pain may be felt in the jaw. Conversely, if the disk in the jaw joint is out of alignment, sensitive, painful areas may develop in the neck. Notably, disabilities in the jaw joint accompanied by neck pain have been found to affect office workers more frequently than non-office workers. Those who sit at a desk in front of a computer are more likely to suffer from both TMJ disorders and neck pain.
How Do Pain Management Physicians Treat Pain from TMJ?
Pain management physicians will always attempt to treat chronic pain with conservative, non-surgical treatments. For neck pain due to TMJ, potential treatment may include:
- Prescription-strength non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Stronger than over-the-counter medications, these anti-inflammatory medications are particularly helpful for those with arthritis.
- Physical therapy
Your pain management physician may refer you to a physical therapist to strengthen your neck and jaw muscles.
- Muscle relaxants
Prescription medications may be prescribed for short-term relief if pain is due to clenching or grinding your teeth.
- Trigger point injections (Corticosteroids or BOTOX)
Corticosteroids injected into the jaw joint can reduce the pain that radiates to the neck due to inflammation in the jaw joint. BOTOX injections can temporarily paralyze the muscles in the jaw to prevent grinding and clenching.
- Ultrasound Therapy
Ultrasound therapy may help some patients get relief from tense muscles by using sound waves to promote muscle relaxation.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
Electrical impulses may help some patients get relief from neck pain due to TMJ.
As an alternative therapy, some patients find that acupuncture helps alleviate pain in the neck due to disorders in the TMJ.
It is important to note that if neck pain is due to a problem with the vertebrae or discs of the neck, a variety of other treatment modalities may be necessary, including nerve block injections, cervical traction techniques, cervical collar (neck brace), platelet-rich plasma injections, and other therapies.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can TMJ Be Cured?
TMJ often goes away on its own with minimal lifestyle changes. However, if you’re suffering from jaw pain and neck pain, additional therapies provided by a pain management specialist may be necessary to manage your pain.
Does Neck Pain from TMJ Require Surgery?
Rarely. In most cases, your pain management specialist, often working in conjunction with your dentist, can successfully treat the condition to alleviate pain. Surgery may be required for a traumatic injury to the jaw joint, severe dislocation in the cervical spine, or a congenital deformity of the jaw joint.