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September 30th, 2010
01:16 PM ET

What might cause tongue pain?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Anna, Washington, D.C.

“Is it possible to sprain/strain your tongue? I get shooting pains in my tongue. What can I take to stop the pain?"

Answer:

Anna, thank you for your question. We consulted Dr. Steven M. Roser of Emory University School of Medicine’s division of oral and maxillofacial surgery and a professor of oral surgery. Roser has been in  practice for more than 20 years and said  he has never made the diagnosis of a sprained or strained tongue.

The tongue is one of the strongest and most robust muscles in the body, pound for pound, when you compare it with other muscles. We use our tongues almost constantly for talking, eating, and swallowing.  Rosen noted that, as with any other muscle,  overuse injuries are possible.

But as a medical professional, Rosen said,  if a patient came to him complaining of tongue pain, he would ask questions to rule out other, more common problems first.  He stressed the importance of seeing a dentist, oral surgeon or medical professional who can conduct an examination and  ask more questions about the pain.

The first thing a medical professional will do is try to get a better description of the type of pain you are experiencing:  Is it a sharp pain?  Where does it originate from or travel to? Is the pain constant or intermittent? How long have you had the pain? Have you taken anything to relieve the pain? Is it on both sides of your tongue?

Some of the possible causes for the pain include nerve-related problems. If the pain has existed for several years and you experience it when you are sitting still, it could be trigeminal neuralgia, which is a chronic painful condition that involves the nerve that carries sensation from your face to your brain. For trigeminal neuralgia, there is evidence that the nerve, which passes through base of the skull, is compressed by blood vessels or something that pushes on the nerve and causes pain. The pain is usually triggered by a stimulus– even a simple gesture like brushing your hand against your face can cause searing pain. Doctors can often relieve the pain with medication, injections or surgery.

If the pain is centered at the back of the tongue and involves the back of the nose and throat, and the ear, it might be glossopharyngeal neuralgia. The exact cause of this condition is unknown, but it’s believed to be tied to irritation of the ninth cranial nerve and may be the result of a viral illness such as shingles or herpes. Swallowing and speech can cause shooting types of pains.

If the pain has existed for only a few weeks, your doctor will thoroughly examine your tongue, mouth and throat for any evidence of lesions that might be evidence of oral cancer. Often you can’t see areas that have an ulcer, so your medical professional will most likely use a mirror to view areas behind the tongue and in the throat. Oral cancer has high rates of treatment success when caught early.

A sprain or strain of the tongue is probably the least likely cause of your pain. It’s important to see a medical professional who can ask specific questions about your tongue pain, thoroughly examine you, and assess whether you need treatment for the pain.


soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. cynthia pizarro

    My 8 year old grandaughter named aliyah was a healthy 8 y/o girl and is currently at Steven &
    Alexandra's Cohen's Children's Medical center of NY. (Pediatric ICU) She
    has been hospitalized since 9/11/10 with initials seizures. However,
    since hospitalized something is effecting her neurologically. Her speech
    has been effected (no verbal communication), involuntary body movements,
    attacks. Doctors have run all tests possible and her diagnosis is
    unknown.
    in NY has been hosptialized since 9/11/10. she was / is a beautiful child she is in

    September 30, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • survivellg

      I just came across your post and I was wondering how your granddaughter is. Please, have her tested by a "Lyme Literate" doctor for Lyme Disease!!! Make sure it is a doctor who specializes in Lyme Disease because the primary care doctors and pediatricians do NOT know enough about Lyme. They will tell you that it would not cause these symptoms that she is having. Even if they did test her for it already and the test came back neg., SEE A LYME SPECIALIST!!! Feel free to contact me for more info...

      April 20, 2012 at 22:32 | Report abuse |
  2. Audrey Christensen

    will the interview with Michael J. Fox be shown again??? when?

    September 30, 2010 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Annie

    You should be getting frequent dental care to make sure there aren't underlying causes

    http://www.houston-general-dentist.com/

    October 10, 2010 at 22:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Stephen Lawson

    Great informative post. I just came across your blog and I thought I would have to leave my first comment after reading this post. Keep up the good work. http://www.prowhitesmile.com/

    November 30, 2010 at 04:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sue Cunningham

    My 62 yr. old daughter has recently had surgery for thyroid cancer and then had pancreatic surgery soon after to chase down a spot on her pancreas (was benighn). Now she has this terrifici pain in her tongue and doctors can't seem to get a handle on relieving the pain. How can she possibly get relief? Everything else is fine/

    January 17, 2011 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rosie Brag

    A very unbias article you wrote there mate. I have found few blogs having good content. And I think you are doing a very good work. Keep up your work. This post was really a nice piece of your work.

    March 7, 2011 at 01:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. prem chand ram

    my mom has shooting pain in facial and sometimes the pain becomes worse and sometimes starts pulling the upper jaw of her mouth . she has taken oxetol and has mri done 2 times . but the reports are normal .what could be the cause of the such attacks .on thing more she gets restless and feels the sensation of passing stools but nothing comes .vomitting feels are also there .she takes oxetol.upper jaw sometimes are swollen.pls help us in finding the correct diagonsis

    April 14, 2012 at 06:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. charles

    i have a pain in my tounge where it hurts when i spit or swallow food it hurts when i talk and its in the back almost underneath my tounge if you could help me i would appreciate it

    June 5, 2012 at 18:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Name*khaya

    My tonuge hurts when I eat and talk spit and it courses my thort and ear to hurt. I'm 11 and a half. And have had this for 3 days

    November 8, 2012 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. susan howell

    when i lay down for nap or go to bed i t wake me up sharp pain in my tongue its very painful it started about 4 months ago

    January 14, 2013 at 22:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • shelly

      reading and seen susan howell 1-14-13 comments i also have a sharp pain that happens when i sleeping it shoots form the back of my tongue to the front of it and wakes me up , its be a couple of months now and i have had a couple now awake i told my dentist and doctor neither seem to care . i feel something is really wrong what can i do to get help?

      October 3, 2013 at 23:24 | Report abuse |
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    April 24, 2013 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Michael Rowland

    I am a 62 year-old male. Recently, (within 4-6- weeks), I catch myself with my tongue sticking out the right side of my mouth, and I am holding it slightly with my teeth o that it's protruding only about one-half inch. I do not even realize I'm doing it most of the time, but my wife most assuredly brings it to my attention. I have never had this habit and am curious as to whether or not there may be a physical cause behind it.

    June 23, 2013 at 18:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • làuraaaaa

      Stroke/tia?

      March 22, 2014 at 01:01 | Report abuse |

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.