Can neck posture affect how your jaw works? Implication for TMJ Pain.

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJDs) are musculoskeletal disorders affecting the jaw joint and chewing muscles. Common symptoms are pain in the orofacial region, restricted jaw movement and sounds originating in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

The restrictions in the range of how much someone can open/close their mouth are due to mandibular range of motion deficits. Restrictions with this motion is mainly influenced by the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ).

Persons who have restrictions with the normal mechanics of the TMJ can have jaw pain, clenching at night (such as bruxism), difficulty chewing and pain with yawning.

The motion of the jaw is also influenced by posture of the neck. The posture that mainly influences how well you can open your jaw is due to restrictions in the upper neck (upper cervical extension) and restrictions in the middle of the neck (middle cervical flexion).

This forward head can decrease how well you open your mouth. See pictures below:

Jaw opening (mandibular depression) with good posture

Jaw opening (mandibular depression) with good posture

Jaw opening (mandibular depression) with forward posture

Jaw opening (mandibular depression) with forward posture

See the difference in how well the jaw opens?! Try it for yourself!

Many research studies show positive findings in the comparison between head position and temporomandibular dysfunction. The different head postures affect the condylar movement of the TMJ. Previous research has found when evaluating the ear position with respect to the seventh cervical vertebra, the head is positioned more forward in groups with temporomandibular disorders. This not only affects the jaw in the sagittal plane (such as forward head in pictures above), but also if there is any type of head tilt.

The relationship of the TMJ and head tilt could be reason why general exercises of improving posture may not be providing you the relief you need!

Any type of TMJ or neck (cervical) condition should receive comprehensive assessment and treatment. Talk to your dentist to see if you would benefit from a physical therapy evaluation to determine how we can help you.

Harrison Vaughan is a physical therapist and co-owner of PhysioFit of North Carolina. He uses dry needling in his practice, alongside other methods, to help you with TMJ pain. He sees and treats uncommon and chronic craniofascial pain. He utilizes the Feel it to Heal it Physio Approach to determine which motions of your jaw and neck are feeling where they are supposed to be, but just as important, where they are not supposed to be! This is also useful for any type of exercise intervention, as some exercises that are prescribed “pick” at your symptoms.