Shoulder pain and 4 other surprising TMJ symptoms

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder affects up to 12% of people, restricting the jaw joint and its associated muscles. While pain and discomfort in your jaw are the most common symptoms of TMJ disorder, many people also experience pain and discomfort in other parts of the body, including the shoulders. With TMJ disorder, you may feel: 

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw, face, neck, or shoulders.
  • Difficulty or discomfort when opening or closing the mouth. 
  • A clicking or popping sound when opening or closing the mouth. 
  • Limited movement or locking of the jaw.
  • Fatigue in the face or jaw.

Some of the common treatments for TMJ disorder-related shoulder pain include physical therapy, medication and orthodontic appliances. If you have been diagnosed with TMJ disorder and are experiencing unexplained shoulder pain, understanding your condition can help you when beginning a treatment plan that targets your specific symptoms, including shoulder pain.

Why does TMJ disorder sometimes cause shoulder pain?

While shoulder pain may not be the first thing you link to TMJ disorder, shoulder pain is a common symptom. This is because your jaw muscles, which are used for chewing and talking, also connect to your shoulder muscles. As a result, when your jaw is in pain or out of alignment, it can cause tension and strain in the muscles that extend to the shoulders. 

In general, TMJ disorder can cause shoulder pain because of:

  • Referred pain — Referred pain is a type of pain that is felt in a part of the body that is different from the location where the pain originates. TMJ disorder-related pain can be referred to other areas of the body, including the shoulders. This happens because the nerves that supply the jaw joint also supply the shoulder muscles. As a result, pain in the jaw can be felt as pain in the shoulders.
  • Clenching and grinding — People with TMJ disorder may clench or grind their teeth at night, which can contribute to muscle tension and chronic pain in the shoulder throughout the day.
  • Poor posture — When your head is positioned forward and your shoulders are rounded, it can cause your jaw to jut forward, which can put extra strain on the jaw joint and muscles. This can lead to pain and discomfort in the jaw, as well as headaches and muscle tension. 
  • Stress — Stress can cause muscle tension and pain in your jaw, neck and shoulders. People with TMJ disorder may also experience stress-related muscle tension and pain in the shoulders.

4 other surprising symptoms of TMJ disorder and what you can do about them

TMJ disorder can lead to some surprising symptoms in addition to shoulder pain. The following symptoms are connected to TMJ disorder: 

  • Ear pain and ringing — Since the jaw joint is located near the ear, jaw tension and pain can be referred to the ear. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, can also be symptoms of chronic muscle tension in the jaw and changes in blood flow to the ears.
  • Dizziness and vertigo — TMJ can cause muscle tension and pain in the neck, which can affect the inner ear and lead to feelings of dizziness and vertigo. It is important to address dizziness as soon as possible to reduce your risk of falling.
  • Migraines and headaches — TMJ can cause headaches and migraines, particularly those involving the temples, forehead, and back of the head.
  • Facial pain — Facial pain and tenderness are common symptoms of TMJ. You may feel as if your facial muscles are tender to the touch.

To alleviate TMJ symptoms like shoulder pain, you can try the following:

  • Stress management — Stress can exacerbate TMJ symptoms. As a result, a major component of TMJ disorder treatment is practicing stress management techniques such as deep breathing, yoga or meditation to reduce stress.
  • Orthodontic appliances — A custom-made splint or mouthguard can be worn at night to prevent your teeth from grinding and help your jaw relax as you sleep.
  • Physical therapy — A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help reduce muscle tension and improve jaw movement. Physical therapists can also use soft tissue mobilization techniques to release muscle tightness, stretching exercises to improve range of motion in the jaw, and strengthening exercises to improve muscle tone and function. A physical therapist may also work with your dentist or orthodontist to ensure that any dental appliances, such as a splint or mouthguard, are properly fitted and used.

Continuum Wellness can help relieve your TMJ disorder-related shoulder pain

Are you experiencing TMJ disorder-related pain in your shoulder? Physical therapists can help you get to the bottom of your pain and release the tension causing your pain. At Continuum Wellness, our team of expert physical therapists can help you regain your jaw and shoulder mobility. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

For more information, Contact Us Today.

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