Can Chiropractors help with TMJ Pain?

You may have heard about people with chronic TMJ pain or jaw clicking getting relief after a chiropractic adjustment on their spine and you might be wondering how that’s possible since the jaw isn’t attached to the spine. Well… it’s true and it happens frequently in the offices of upper chiropractors. The answer lies is how the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is controlled neurologically. 

TMJ Pain

There are two nerves that control the muscles around the temporomandibular joint, the facial nerve (cranial nerve 7) and your trigeminal nerve (cranial nerve 5). Both nerves are considered cranial nerves because they branch off directly from the brain stem. How well the TMJ joint moves depends on the coordination of all the muscles around the joint – all the muscles have to play their role at just the right time or the joint will move unevenly and cause trouble. The brain stem is what determines how well the TMJ muscles are coordinated and controlled so anything that affects the function of the brain stem can affect the function of the temporomandibular joint. 

Your house has an electrical fuse box that controls the flow of electricity all over the house – if one of the fuses blows then you’ll lose power to a section of your house. You can think of your brain stem as the neurological fuse box for your body – if your brain stem doesn’t work normally then the things it controls (like your TMJ) won’t work normally either. A brain stem is way more complicated than an electrical fuse box, but the analogy works for our purposes here.

One of the things than can dramatically change brain stem function are the joints and muscles in your neck. The medical term is called mechanoreception, or proprioception and it stands for the neurological information being sent from the joint and muscles in the neck to your brain stem. Your brain stem uses that neurological information to know how to make slight changes in other parts of your body. In fact, all the muscles and joints around your body are constantly sending neurological info to your brain stem, but it just so happens that the muscles and joints in your upper neck send the most and therefore can influence brain stem function the most. 


When the some of the joints in your upper neck are stuck or misaligned your brain stem function will begin to change. Some of the earliest signs are slight postural changes like having one shoulder or hip that’s always higher than the other, or having a head that doesn’t seem to sit straight on the body. Another sign is having chronic TMJ issues without a history of trauma to the joint. 

If your TMJ problems didn’t start after a single trauma (like getting hit in the jaw) and just slowly got worse over time then you’re probably dealing with a neurological problem and it would be a good idea to get an evaluation from an upper cervical chiropractor. If your TMJ problems started right after a trauma to the face or jaw then you probably need to visit a dentist or orthodontist. 

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