An unsupportive mattress, awkward sleeping positions, and lingering inflammation around spinal joints, bones, or discs are just some of the possible reasons you may wake up with back pain. But did you know teeth grinding (bruxism) may also be a factor? Here’s a closer look at the connection between spine-related discomfort and the involuntary grinding or clenching of teeth with excessive force.
The temporomandibular joints (TMJs) are “sliding hinge” joints that link the lower jawbone (mandible) to the skull bone (temporal bone). The connection point is by the front of the ear. These joints are found on each side of the jaw and connected to muscles and other soft tissues. These tissues are, in turn, linked to other tissues and nerves in a way that sometimes results in back pain if jaw muscles are irritated or tense because of teeth grinding.
To fully understand the connection between teeth grinding and back pain, it helps to know a little bit more about the role of soft tissues connected to the TM joint. A facial muscle called the masseter muscle, which helps with chewing, rests along each temporomandibular joint, and this muscle partners with other muscles in your face and neck. One of these connecting muscles is the temporalis muscle, which is so named because it connects to the temple. All of this brings us to the next link between teeth grinding and back pain.
If the temporalis muscle is affecting the tight jaw joints, you could end up with migraine headaches. On a related note, a study in the journal Pain noted a correlation between migraine and tension headaches and frequent low back pain. You may also experience cervical headaches, which produce similar discomfort. However, headaches of this nature are usually due to awkward sleeping positions, although they could be due to cervical disc issues that may require minimally invasive neck surgery. Beverly Hills patients with severe headaches accompanied by neck pain should see a spine specialist for diagnosis.
When the jaw joints tighten, there’s a domino effect that extends to several muscles around the neck. The body instinctively tightens related muscles in an attempt to maintain optimal support of the head, which is attached to the spine. What you could end up with is:
• Neck or upper back stiffness
• Local neck and upper back pain
• Nerve-based pain that extends from your upper back and neck area to your shoulders or arms
It’s believed bruxism is related to a subconscious effort by the body to handle stress, although the exact cause of teeth grinding isn’t fully understood. Other factors may include:
• Excessive alcohol consumption
• Caffeine and nicotine
• Certain medications
As for how to stop teeth grinding at night, wearing a night guard is often recommended. You may also benefit from taking a warm, relaxing bath or doing some self-massage before going to sleep, since anxiety and stress can contribute to bruxism. Additionally, it’s best to break the habit of chewing on gum, pencils, or pens to ease stress, since excess chewing contributes to spontaneous jaw clenching. If reducing nighttime teeth grinding isn’t helping with your back pain, see your doctor or a Beverly Hills spine surgeon.
If you’re experiencing prolonged or severe back pain, make sure to see a spine specialist as soon as possible. The Spine Institute’s pioneering physicians are expert diagnosticians, and they’ll help you discover the cause of your pain and develop a customized plan of treatment to get you back to a pain-free life. Make an appointment with us today by calling 310-828-7757.