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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 (31 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

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    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

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

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    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. 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
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  10. 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 |
  11. Ros Anderson

    I am a 67 yr. old female with pain only in the back right side of my tongue for 6-8 mos. It happens only when chewing and is like a bad cramp. It is getting so intense when eating that I have to stop chewing until it subsides enough to continue. It is annoying but since it's getting more frequent and intense, my main concern is what is causing it?!?!

    May 27, 2015 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Tm

    iam 22 years old . I have had painfull with my tongue and all my mouth for entire of my life .my mouth always get bad breath, but Iam stutter . May be cause of that?

    July 13, 2015 at 02:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. pmondello

    I experience random bouts of pain to both sides of my tongue. Near the center back of BOTH sides pain extends about half an inch towards the center in a burning, stinging pain. It lasts a good minute of pain before going away for a few hours or days.

    June 16, 2016 at 02:00 | Report abuse | Reply
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  15. Judy komlodiName*

    I realize the tongue is a muscle but mine hurts almost always; but like if someone was sucking it.

    February 13, 2017 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Gin

    OR, TONGUE FATIGUE AND PAIN COULD BE CAUSED BY LUNG CANCER !!!!! This happened to me and no doctor would listen when I told them something was drastically wrong. I had to demand a CT scan of the upper chest and neck area and low and behold there was the tumor in my right upper lobe. Luckily I was pro active with my health and listened to my body. It was stage 1 and I'm here to tell my story and how I avoided death.

    February 23, 2017 at 21:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Nancy snyder

    I have a sore tongue, on the top of my tongue is a open slit about 1/2 inch long. My tongue burns and I have excessive saliva wit odd taste, should I see a dr., what could it be? Please tell me what you think. I am 77yrs. Old.

    April 30, 2018 at 00:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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  21. djmelm@comcast.net

    I have had sever pain on the left side of my tongue for over 10 years . I have had MRI's for my brain no problems, doctors all say I haven't seen this before.No one has been able to cure my problem.

    May 17, 2019 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
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  24. Catherine

    Hi, I have pain on the left side of the floor of my mouth. The pain feels like a strain but I have not been able to find information that matches my symptoms online. It becomes apparent when I chew too much, make any strong suction movements in my mouth, or when I start eating breakfast in the morning. To avoid this, I have been drinking smoothies in the morning (without the sucking motion) so I would not have to chew. This problem has been present inconsistently for 2 years, and I initially thought it was a blockage of my salivary glands because massaging them would get rid of the strain, but as time went on this method stopped working. I can apply pressure upwards to the floor of my mouth from the exterior and try to massage it to get rid of the pain, but usually not chewing is best. There is no pain in my jaws or directly on my tongue, and this has never happened on my right side. When I get my strains, I have to chew slowly with wide motions and little tongue movement. At its worst, swallowing becomes painful, moving my mouth to speak is painful. When I start to feel a hint of tingling on the floor of my mouth (the left side), I know to start chewing carefully. What exactly do I have, and is it really a strain like I thought?

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  27. Douglas R. Buskers

    I am a 67 year old male diagnosed with cerrabellar ataxia and MSA (over 3 years ago). In the past year the tip and left edge of my tongue feel like I bit it ( I didn't). This is intermittent but the frequency is increasing. Sometimes the right is also effected.Usually I feel a track behind and below the sinus on the effected side.could they be connected? Which specialist should I press?

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About this blog

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.