TMJ (Jaw Pain)
TMJ stands for “temporomandibular joint,” or jaw joint. These are the small joints in front of each ear that attach the lower jaw to the skull, and happen to be the most complex joints in the entire body. The area of the face where the TMJ is located is an intricate network of bones, including the teeth, muscles, and nerves. Because of this, TMJ (dysfunction) conditions affect many areas of the body, from the top of the head in migraine-like headaches to numbness or tingling in the arms and pain in the neck or shoulders.
What Causes TMJ
In most cases, TMJ disorders stem from a condition called malocclusion, which means having a “bad bite” or accidents and trauma. Malocclusion means that your upper and lower teeth do not close together in the correct way—they are misaligned. This includes underbites and overbites. When the teeth are misaligned, they cannot provide the support the muscles in the face need for chewing and swallowing. These muscles are then forced into a strained position, resulting in pain throughout the face, head, arms, shoulders, and back. Although a person may have beautiful teeth or had orthodontics to line the teeth up for aesthetic reasons, the muscles and joints may not be comfortable.
How Can TMJ Be Treated
Often jaw problems resolve on their own in several weeks to months. If you have recently experienced TMJ pain and/or dysfunction, you may find relief with some or all of the following therapies:
- Moist Heat: Moist heat from a heat pack or a hot water bottle wrapped in a warm, moist towel can improve function and reduce pain. Be careful to avoid burning yourself when using heat.
- Ice: Ice packs can decrease inflammation and also numb pain and promote healing. Do not place an ice pack directly on your skin. Keep the pack wrapped in a clean cloth while you are using it. Do not use an ice pack for more than 10 – 15 minutes.
- Soft Diet: Soft or blended foods allow the jaw to rest temporarily. Remember to avoid hard, crunchy, and chewy foods. Do not stretch your mouth to accommodate such foods as corn on the cob, apples, or whole fruits.
- Jaw Exercises: Slow, gentle jaw exercises may help increase jaw mobility and healing. Your health care provider can evaluate your condition and suggest appropriate exercises based on your individual needs.
- Relaxation Techniques: Relaxation and guided imagery can be helpful in dealing with the pain that accompanies TMJ dysfunction. Deep, slow breathing enhances relaxation and modulates pain sensations. Some have found yoga, massage and meditation helpful in reducing stress and aiding relaxation.
- Side Sleeping: Sleep on your side using pillow support between shoulder and neck.
- Relax Facial Muscles: Make a concerted effort to relax your lips, and keep teeth apart.
Chiropractors may use soft tissue techniques to assist with muscle imbalances, recommend exercises to correct poor posture and use gentle work around the joint to ensure proper function and mobility.