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The Upper Cervical Spine, TMJ and Facial Pain

Updated: Feb 7


The Upper Cervical Spine, TMJ and Facial Pain

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your lower jaw (mandible) to your (maxilla) upper jaw. Located just below each ear, the TMJ is the hinging joint that facilitates the opening and closing of your jaw. Without the TMJ, your lower jaw would have no way of completing the movements required for drinking, eating, laughing, speaking, swallowing, and yawning.


TMJ disorders are typically categorized under the umbrella term of TMJDs. It’s estimated that as many as 10 million Americans suffer from TMJDs, making it the most common type of facial pain. So, what does the upper cervical spine have to do with TMJ and facial pain? Keep reading to learn more…


TMJD Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of TMJD can appear suddenly after a trauma, or they may take years to develop.

Some symptoms may show up on only one side of the face. However, in some cases, they show up on both sides. The symptoms you experience will depend on your condition's cause and severity. The most typical sign patients experience is pain or dysfunction in the jaw joint and its associated muscles and supporting tissues. Other symptoms may include:

  • Pain or Tenderness at the joint

  • Ringing in the ears (Tinnitus)

  • Stiffness in the jaw muscles

  • Popping or clicking of the jaw

  • Locking of the jaw

  • Intermittent shifts in jaw alignment

  • Limited range of motion in the jaw

  • Muscle Spasms in the face or neck

  • Dizziness/Vertigo

  • Headaches or Earaches

  • Stiffness or spasms in facial muscles

While for some, these issues will be mild, others will find them quite debilitating. TMJDs can also cause problems with posture, sleep, and spinal alignment.


What are the Causes of TMJ?

There are several possible causes of TMJ; in most cases, the reasons can be hard to pinpoint. Making diagnosis difficult, but there are a few factors to consider.

  • Mild repetitive actions, such as jaw clenching, teeth grinding, gum chewing, nail-biting, or prolonged periods of supporting a phone between the head and shoulder, can affect the function of the temporomandibular joint over time.

  • Direct or indirect injury to the TMJ from a traumatic event such as whiplash, car accidents, or sports injuries.

  • Dental work and orthodontic braces can cause improper function at this joint.

  • Trauma to the upper neck can affect the TMJ itself or part of the nervous system called the trigeminal nerve that controls and coordinates the jaw muscles.

  • Chronic stress and poor posture have also been associated with the onset of TMJ, and any abnormal wear and tear can cause irritation, inflammation, and, eventually, arthritis within the joint itself, all leading to TMJ dysfunction.

There are a few health conditions that can be involved in the onset of TMJDs, including:

  • Growth disorders

  • Arthritis

  • Erosion of the joint

  • Foundational shift of the upper spine

A few risk factors may also be associated with the onset of TMJ disorders. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Prolonged stress

  • Female hormones (estrogen is believed to contribute to the development of TMJ)

  • Joint hypermobility

  • Poor posture that strains the neck and face muscles

How the Upper Cervical Spine Affects the TMJ

The Upper Cervical spine has a considerable influence on the TMJ. This has much to do with the uppermost bone in the neck called the atlas vertebra. Changes to the alignment of this part of the spine can place pressure on the trigeminal nerve, a major craniofacial nerve responsible for regulating the function of the mastication muscle group.


Left untreated, pinching or compression of the trigeminal nerve can inflame the muscles around the TMJ, leading to severe discomfort and TMJ disorders. No matter the method of damage, the overarching cause of TMJD is often a subluxation in the neck’s vertebrae, and some research suggests that up to 75% of TMJ cases are related to misalignment in the upper cervical spine.


A Gentle Correction Away from Natural Relief

At Atlas Specific Chiropractic in Durango, we believe in correcting subluxations in the Upper Cervical spine to remove interferences and get to the root cause of TMJ. We do not just treat the symptoms. Our goal is to allow the body to heal from the underlying cause of facial pain and TMJ-related health concerns.


Using state-of-the-art equipment and gentle, non-invasive corrections, we work to restore the neck and spine to its normal position so that any interference can be removed and recovery from TMJ can begin.


We provide TMJ treatment for patients in La Plata County and the surrounding areas. This includes Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio, Mancos, and Cortez, as well as Aztec NM and Farmington NM. Schedule a free consultation today by clicking the link below, calling us at 970.259.6803, or dropping by our 1800 E 3rd Ave #108 office in Durango, CO. You could be a gentle correction away from natural TMJ pain relief!


Free Consultation

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