TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder can manifest a wide range of symptoms, including jaw tension and neck pain. Many sufferers of TMJ disorder also experience stomach distress such as gas, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, and symptoms that seem unrelated, such as heart palpitations and poor circulation. Blame it on the Vagus nerve.
What is TMJ disorder?
TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder is a chronic condition involving the jaw joints. There are two TMJs or jaw joints, one on either side of the face. One or both joints may become aggravated or displaced. In the area of the jaw joints, everything is interconnected. Even a slight imbalance can cause worsening pain, and untreated TMJ disorder can lead to nerve or muscle dysfunction throughout the body.
TMJ disorder almost always affects the neck. Several major nerves run from the brain through the neck and throat. Some, like the Vagus nerve, extend deep into the body. Due to pressure or dysfunction in the neck, a TMJ patient may experience a vast range of seemingly unrelated symptoms, caused by nerve impairment or damage. If you suspect TMJ disorder, take a quick easy self-test HERE.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The Vagus nerve (pronounced vay-gus) is the tenth cranial nerve. Cranial nerves emerge directly from the brain, as opposed to spinal nerves, which emerge from the spine. There are twelve pairs of cranial nerves. The first two cranial nerves emerge from the cerebrum (part of the forebrain). The rest, including the Vagus nerve, emerge from the brain stem at the base of the brain.
The Vagus nerve is also known as the pneumogastric nerve. Since it covers broad areas in the human body, the Vagus nerve is sometimes called the Wandering or Rambling Nerve. Even slight pressure on the Vagus nerve may cause debilitating health problems.
Like other cranial nerves, the Vagus is actually two nerves. The right Vagus nerve affects the heart, lungs, blood pressure and circulation, while the left Vagus nerve affects the stomach and digestion.
If the left Vagus nerve is affected, symptoms may include:
- gas and bloating
- stomach pain, cramps
- eating disorders
- lack of appetite
- trouble swallowing
- speech difficulties
- loss of gag reflex
Among other things, the left Vagus nerve sends signals to the brain, indicating whether the stomach is full, or whether digestion is completed. In Vagus nerve dysfunction, the signals are impaired, causing digestive disturbance and eating disorders.
The left Vagus nerve also controls the muscles of the larynx. This can affect speech, and some TMJ patients may have difficulty swallowing or speaking, or may develop breathing problems.
If the right Vagus nerve is also affected, symptoms may include: