Do you find yourself digging your fingers in around your jaw? Perhaps you wake with stiffness in the jaw, suffer from headaches, ear pain or even the feeling of an itchy, irritated throat? Yep, all of these and other symptoms can fall under the term commonly referred to as TMJ or TMD. So what does all of that mean, and more importantly, what can be done to relieve this pain?
Let’s begin first with the what and why
Basically the temporomandibular joint (referred in this article as “jaw”) is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull, and when there is any dysfunction, injury/trauma or damage to this joint is can lead localised pain called TMJ or TMD. To prevent wearing and damage, a cartilage is formed between the bones of your face (mandible) and skull (temporal bones), and also acts as a shock absorber for when we might be clenching or grinding.
Your jaw is working constantly on a daily basis – whether it be for eating, smiling, yawning or speaking, and a number of different muscles work to promote these movements. There are many muscles connected to the skull and neck that help promote the movement of the jaw, therefore successfully treating TMJ requires a holistic approach to ensure the best outcomes.
Like so many pains that arise, jaw pain is rarely associated with just 1 direct cause. A painful, stiff or dysfunctional jaw might be a result of:
- Direct trauma, such as a sporting injury, fall, motor vehicle accident or other incident that resulted in direct impact to the jaw and or face;
- Stress, causing you to grind or clench the teeth (this is often a very subconscious behaviour);
- Poor postural habits, causing your head and neck to sit forward and change the alignment of the jaw;
- Overbite, or misaligned bite as a result of uneven teeth. It may also be due to dental work that has changed the skeletal alignment.
The above simply highlight ‘some’ of the causes of jaw pain, again reinforcing the importance of a rounded and holistic approach to treatment.
HOW TO TREAT IT SUCCESSFULLY
In some cases, the jaw pain you’ve experienced may go away without any treatment intervention, which is a great outcome.
A comprehensive history helps “paint the picture” as to why there might be jaw pain; whether its directly related to trauma, secondary to other stresses within the body (perhaps poor postural habits), if disturbed sleep is a factor, so on and so forth.
As a myotherapist, my treatment is based around this information. If the issue is truly TMJ, I will work in with your preferred dentist (or refer you to a trusted group) to determine if there is a need for a bite plate to be fitted, and exclude any other dental structures that may be contributing to the pain. Spinal movements are also assessed, as it’s not uncommon for jaw pain to be aligned with spinal and neck tightness, and joint restrictions.
- Physical therapies: this may include a combination of soft tissue techniques to reduce the abnormal muscle spasm within the structures of the neck, mouth, jaw and often face. Gentle joint mobilisation may also assist to regain correct movement of the TMJ and spinal movements.
- Medications: anti-inflammatories and or muscle relaxants may be indicated by your physician or doctor to help reduce inflammation of the joint and relax hyperactive muscle activity. Tricyclic antidepressants, often associated for the use of depression, are now seen to be used effectively for pain relief where indicated by your doctor.
- Counseling: Many people experience ongoing TMJ or jaw pain as a result of teeth clenching and/or grinding, biting the inside cheek or nail biting. Counseling can assist you in identifying factors that may contribute to these habits, and offer you helpful strategies to break the habit, hence reduce the jaw pain.
The bottom line here is don’t simply ignore the pain! Sure, it may resolve on its own, however if it does not, and you persist to “ignore” it, you may find that it leads to greater issues such as worn or cracked teeth that require expensivedental care, ongoing headaches, ear pain and often locking of the jaw. If you're worried about jaw pain, call your local Evado Studio today to book in with a Physiotehrpaist or Myotherapist today.