One of the things people find most surprising about temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD) is the sheer number of symptoms that it causes. People understand that as a jaw disorder, jaw and teeth-related symptoms make sense. However, people often don’t understand why the symptoms of TMJ can range from headaches to tingling fingers and even lower back pain.

Understanding TMJ can help you see the benefits of TMJ treatment. It can also help you take steps to manage symptoms if your TMJ doesn’t yet need professional care.

woman with black, curly hair holds her jaw due to pain

Headaches, Face Pain, Neck Pain

Headaches are very common TMJ symptoms. People also experience pain in the face and neck linked to TMJ, often for the same reasons.

The simplest explanation for headaches and other pains linked to TMJ is muscle tension. The jaw muscles are the largest and strongest muscles in the head, and they extend throughout the head and face. When the jaw muscles are tense and in pain, you might feel it as high up as the temples behind the eyes.

In addition, all the muscles in your body work together. When one partner gets tense and tired, it can pass additional work to the other muscles. So jaw tension can lead to a tense and stiff neck.

In addition to muscle tension, TMJ can cause headaches because of the pressure it puts on nerves. This is one way that TMJ can trigger migraines. However, TMJ can also trigger migraines because your jaw muscles are controlled by the trigeminal nerve, a source of migraines. Tense, overworked, and painful jaw muscles can potentially overwhelm the trigeminal nerve, leading to migraines.

Ear Symptoms

Ear symptoms are common in TMJ. The ear is closely linked to the jaw joint. People experience ringing in the ears (tinnitus), ear pain, ear fullness, and vertigo or dizziness.

The ear’s inner structures are contained in the temporal bone, the temporo- part of the temporomandibular joint. Pressure on this joint could potentially disrupt the ear’s delicate workings.

However, there is a stronger connection between the ear and the jaw. There are tiny muscles in the ear that are connected to and synchronized with jaw muscles. When your jaw muscles are tense and overworked, they can cause tension in these muscles. This leads to a disruption of the ear symptoms, and, in turn, to disruptions in hearing and/or balance.

Back Pain

It’s easy for people to see how muscle tension gets shared between the muscles of the head. It’s a little harder to see that an imbalanced jaw could cause pain all the way down your back. This doesn’t happen directly. It’s a process where your spine plays a critical role.

Walking upright as we do puts unusual demands on our spine. The spine must bear extra weight and it must balance.

Think of the spine like a big pile of blocks, the vertebrae, or bones in your spine. If you move blocks off to one side, the stack becomes imbalanced and will fall unless you either move them back or .push other blocks in the other direction to restore balance. This is usually what happens with the spine. When jaw imbalance pulls some of the vertebrae in the neck out of place, lower vertebrae in the back move in the opposite direction to counterbalance the disruption at the top. Over time, this might overbalance the other way, which leads to bones further down moving back to the original tipping point.

With the spine curving, the muscles of the back are forced to work harder, which can be painful. The spine can also pinch nerves in painful ways, leading to a more electric, shooting pain. 

Tingling and Numbness in Hands and Fingers

One of the strangest symptoms people develop with TMJ is tingling in the hands and fingers. This is closely related to the cause of back pain above.

When the vertebrae move to one side or the other, they tilt. This tilting narrows the space between vertebrae where nerves emerge to extend into the rest of the body. When this happens, it can put pressure on the nerves. Minor pressure on the nerves can disrupt signals from distant parts of the body. A little pressure creates tingling. More pressure leads to numbness and loss of control.

One place for this pressure to manifest in TMJ is below the shoulders, where the nerves leading to your arms emerge. The result is tingling in the fingers at first, followed by numbness and impaired function. 

Get Relief from TMJ in Wilmington, DE

If you are tired of all the symptoms of TMJ, which can run almost literally from head to toe, TMJ dentist Dr. Michael T. Rosen can help. With a comprehensive exam, he can determine if you have TMJ and what symptoms are likely linked to it. Then he can help you enjoy the benefits of TMJ treatment.

Please call (302) 994-0979 or use our contact form today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rosen in Wilmington, DE.