TMJ pain can really bite! Pain causing that is...LOL. If you are reading this, your doctor or dentist may have mentioned you or someone close to you has TMJ. Some of the questions that arise are :
So what is TMJ, anyway?
TMJ stands for TemporoMandibular Joint. This is the hinged joint that makes up your jaw, where the temporal bone of your skull articulates with the mandibular bone of your lower jaw.
In fact, we all have "a" TMJ and when there is issues with the jaw it is actually termed TemporoMandibular joint Dysfunction (TMD). The dysfunction being usually pain with mouth movement and sometimes limited range of motion. This can often times cause functional limitations with eating, talking, or sleeping. We also see, hear or feel clicking or clunking. This joint noise is usually due to the intrarticualr disc getting dislodged, pinched or pulled out of alignment. Pain and joint noise are not the only symptoms of a TMJ issue. Your symptoms maybe coming from your jaw if you are experiencing facial pain, headaches, tinnitus or ear ringing, or dizziness to name a few.
What causes TMJ and what can I do to decrease the pain and limitation?
Now that you know the basics of TMJ, what are some of the leading causes of this painful and often disruptive condition?
Posture is number one...I not only assess in sessions, but also educate on. So - So important, and so easy to address. This mostly includes education on how your body is holding itself and how you are being held by your body. Often fascial restriction patterns contribute to this. However, much of the time, it is about awareness. One aspect of posture I talk to everyone about is the position of their head. If you are rounding forward at the shoulders ( which most of us do by the way - think of those iPhones and computer use - hint-hint), then your head actually tilts up to look at the world/ the task we are engaged in. When this happens, the base of your head is being compressed into the upper cervical spine causing compression which actually begets TMJ malalignment and compression. What can you do? Through out your day, do simple shoulder rolls backwards and shoulder blade pinches. The head follows the shoulders. This will help to take the pressure of the muscles through the back of neck. Imagine holding a 10 pound bowling ball out in front of you all day. That's how much your head weighs approximately, and the further forward your head is, the amount of pressure that goes through your cervical spine increases exponentially. Now that's a cause for pain!
Bruxism: Teeth grinding and even just clenching causes compression through all the musculature of the jaw, neck and head. This leads to headaches and pinching of the disc in your TMJ. Ouch! So what do we do when it's a habit and can't stop? Well, first become aware of it ...every hour check in " Am I clenching?". If so, try lightly massaging the sides of your cheeks in a downward motion to initiate a decompressive message to your nervous system. This can feel great! Its sends a message to your nervous system to relax, and if done repeatedly, you are breaking the unconscious messages that get us caught in pain-tension loops.
Stress: Neck tension and shoulder issues can contribute to TMJ and are a reason why I always assess the upper quarter when someone visits me in the office. Also, interesting to note, in the soft tissue structure of the body, fascia and the Craniosacral system , it is not unusual to see pelvic and lower lumbar compression contributing to TMJ issues. ...but try and tell the insurance company that- LOL! Everyone carries stress differently. Our bodies are AMAZING and so smart! The full body deserves to be assessed and considered in any treatment, especially TMJ. Craniosacral is an amazing way to access this. In the meantime, try some relaxation methods. Self care is the ultimate for relaxation and can be as simple as listening to relaxing music, going for a walk, meditation, yoga, ...making sure you take that lunch break.
Habits : If you have TMJ pain and are a gum chewer, then taking a break from this is a really good idea. The act of chewing gum causes increased tension and overuse of the masticatory muscles. Some other habits to consider are nail biting, lip biting, clenching jaw, and leaning on side of face with one hand.
These leading causes are just the tip of the iceberg and it is a starting place for you! I hope this share helps you to decrease your TMJ pain. If you get partial results, and even no results at all with the above tips, it is time to see a specialist who evaluates and treats TMJ. The evaluation will get you pointed in the right direction as far as a cause; body based treatment will decrease restriction patterns contributing to your symptoms and offer more insight into what is just below the surface of the objective evaluation process; and a custom HEP for self treatment and management of your TMJ symptoms.