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TMJ Disorder and Referred Pain

referred pain  re·ferred pain (r?-fûrd’)    n.  Pain that is felt in a part of the body at a distance from its area of origin.

Do you have any of the following symptoms?

  • Ear pain, a feeling of stuffiness and or ringing in the ears?
  • Dizziness
  • Shoulder or neck pain?
  • Pain behind or above the eyes?
  • Headaches, or pain (mild or severe), that may start in the front of the head, along the sides, in the upper part of neck, or pain that radiates to all areas?

Did you know that approximately 20% of the input to the brain comes from the spinal column? The other 80% comes from 12 sets of cranial nerves that control taste, smell, hearing, vision, inner ear function as well as autonomic control of the organs ( not under voluntary control)  and blood vessels of the body. Out of that 80%, more than half of the input to our brain comes as a result of the 3 branches of the trigeminal nerve. The 3 branches are involved with these functions:

  • Chewing
  • Swallowing
  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Sinuses
  • Teeth
  • Talking
  • Breathing

It is easy to understand when looking at the two lists above how referred pain or symptoms can occur.

The temporomandibular joint has a close association with the trigeminal nerve, and because symptoms of TMJ disorder frequently are referred to surrounding structures instead of the actual joint they may not be associated with the condition. (such as… feeling like you have an ear infection, but the ENT can’t find anything wrong with your ears, and it never occurs to him/her that it may be TMD)  This is why TMJ Disorder is often called “The great impostor”

There is another source of referred pain from the jaw, and that is a trigger point. A trigger point is an abnormally sensitive spot on a muscle that goes into spasm. In a normal muscle, the fibers contract and relax causing the blood to flow through. In a trigger point the muscle stays contracted leading to a lower blood supply, which in turn causes the tissue to have less oxygen and an accumulation of waste. Trigger points can create referred pain to the muscles of the face and neck as well as surrounding muscles, making it difficult to pinpoint where the pain is originating from.

Do you have referred pain? If so, what helps you?

4 thoughts on “TMJ Disorder and Referred Pain”

  1. Heat helps, but stretching out my neck helps immensely.  I’ll take a deep breath and then stretch out the muscle of my neck.  It sends a mass of oxygen through those tissues, but make sure you do it sitting down on the ground cause you can pass out if you do it wrong haha.

  2. The only thing I have found that truly helps me is using Muscle Rub and putting it on my jaw and behind my ears right before going to bed. This 100% eliminates all of my dizziness and pain.

  3.  Stretches and also a tennis ball or I use my kids bouncy balls between me and the wall stopping on trigger points.  An acupuncturists puts the needles on the back of my neck and tops of shoulders hooked to a tens-type unit and that helps with facial pain!

  4. I think it’s important to differentiate between referred pain and pain felt in another area that is associated with the problem. When people are having a heart attack and only feel pain in their lower left arm (but their left arm isn’t actually hurt), this is referred pain. If you have jaw problems that are messing up your neck and shoulder muscles, and you have pain in your neck and should muscles, I’m not sure this would count as referred pain- these muscles actually hurt and are impacted in some way. 

    I’m not a doctor or anything close to one though, and I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this.

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