Is TMJ pain making you frustrated and borderline hopeless? San Diego movement & mobility chiropractor shares 5 approaches (with videos) to relieve pain and prevent recurrence. Read now or bookmark it for later.
Maddie, a software engineer, comes to the clinic weary of chronic jaw pain and locking. She can hardly move her mouth when she speaks. Headaches arise and become more frequent especially at work. She has been wearing a mouthguard at night for nearly a year and has been resorting to painkillers. The problem has been worsening and she is beyond frustrated, borderline hopeless. Sound familiar?
According to the National Institute of Health, TMJ disorders affect over 10 million Americans. Issues with the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) are all too common and can be difficult to deal with. Often times, though, even chronic TMJ pain can be helped fairly quickly with the right approach, as was Maddie’s experience.
How might I know if I have TMJ disorder?
- Achy pain near the ear
- Popping or clicking in the jaw when eating, talking, or yawning
- Pain in one or both sides of the jaw
- The jaw locks or becomes stuck open
- Associated headache, dizziness, or toothache
Common Causes of TMJ Pain
- Improper joint mechanics
- Forward head position
- Muscle tension and/or weakness; clenching
- Various types of arthritis
- Past trauma to the head, neck, or jaw area
- Grinding the teeth at night
- Chronic stress and anxiety
An Outdated Approach for Relief
When it is difficult to talk and eat, most people will try anything to relieve the pain. Things like mouth guards, painkillers, injections, and even surgery. This outdated approach may not address the root cause and can lead to chronic issues.
An Active Approach for Relief
A more active approach focuses on the patient and their specific problem that is manifesting as TMJ disorder. It focuses not only on the TMJ itself, but also on the structures directly related to it.
The following are some strategies to treat and prevent common causes of TMJ disorder:
1. Masseter Tack & Twist
The masseter is the strongest jaw muscle and can become chronically tight especially in teeth-clenchers. Release it using a lacrosse ball and this tack and twist method. Push the ball into the side of the jaw, give it a little twist to bind up the tissue, and open the mouth slowly. Repeat for 1-2 minutes per side.
2. Deep Neck Flexor Strength
Head-neck positioning and function can be the underlying issue when we are dealing with TMJ pain. Strengthening the deep neck flexors can help improve positioning and the association between the neck and jaw. Try repping these as 5-15 second holds. Keeping the chin tucked is key. As added bonus, doing these might help with your headaches.
3. SCM Tack & Twist
Again, address the neck’s relationship to the TMJ. The SCM is another chronically tight muscle and its attachment is near the TMJ. Try spending 1-2 minutes per side with the same tack and twist technique as we did before.
4. Lateral Pterygoid Release
At the back of the mouth, were the upper and lower jaw meet is a small muscle called the lateral pteryoid. A little more invasive, but the single best technique used to treat chronic TMJ dysfunction is releasing this deep jaw muscle. The lateral pterygoid is almost always chronically tight in those with TMJ pain. We recommend learning this technique from a professional before you try this yourself.
Grinding the teeth at night, frequent clenching, chronic stress and anxiety are factors that may cause TMJ disorders. Learning where we hold stress and where we can soften through mindfulness practices may reduce stress and anxiety as well as the habit of clenching and teeth grinding at night.
We need to take an active approach to treating TMJ disorders. Waiting it out and hoping for the pain to subside sets you up for frequent flare-ups and perhaps chronic issues down the road. Try this active approach to get you lasting relief and hopefully prevent the issue from recurring.