Do you find your jaw aching? A constant feeling of tension and or popping/clicking when opening your mouth wide or moving your jaw side to side? Chances are you could be experiencing TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder. The TMJ connects the jawbone to the skull. Issues in and around this joint can cause TMJ pain. TMJ disorder is an umbrella term for common problems in and around the jaw. It affects more women than men; mainly occurring in people aged 30-50.
The jaw is a strong mobile joint. It can move up and down, side to side, forward and backward. Pain in the jaw can refer into the face, over the head and into the neck.
The muscles in the jaw (masseter, medial and lateral pterygoids and the temporalis) can hold a lot of tension. Subsequently this can be a cause or a symptom of TMJ. Personally I find that I hold a lot of tension in my jaw. I catch myself sometimes clenching my jaw and have started to become more mindful of doing this. When I am focused and concentrating on something I have to remind myself to relax my jaw.
Parts of the bones in the joint are covered with cartilage and cushioned with a small disc that acts as a shock absorber. Damage or injury to the disc can be the source of TMJ disorder.
Common signs and symptoms of TMJ disorder
Bruxism – Clenching or grinding teeth particularly at night.
Facial Pain – Aching pain in the face or in and around the ear
Headaches – Pressure from the teeth can cause pain at top back and sides of the head.
Jaw locking – This is a result of the disc interfering with normal jaw movement.
Jaw, neck and shoulder pain – Pain can refer from the jaw into the head neck and shoulders. Similarly, tension and tightness in these areas can also refer pain into the jaw.
Limited range of motion – Usual jaw movements are difficult e.g., moving the jaw forward, backward or side to side and fully opening the mouth.
Misalignment of the cervical vertebrae – Chronic misalignment of the bones in the neck can cause muscles in the neck and shoulders to tighten up. This in turn causes them to pull on the neck bones.
Popping/clicking jaw – Usually related to the fibrocartilage disc or bone of the jaw being out of alignment. This causes interference with opening of the jaw.
Osteoarthritis – Progressive wear and tear of the jaw can erode the cartilage in the joint
Overbite – Misalignment of the bite can be a source of TMJ pain
Treatment for TMJ Pain
You can visit your dentist or doctor for an examination and discuss your symptoms. In general the discomfort of TMJ disorder can be relieved through non surgical means. Sometimes the symptoms are only temporary and go away on their own. However, for some people surgery may be required depending upon the cause of the disorder.
How to relieve TMJ pain at home
Over the counter pain killers and anti-inflammatory medication. (If you require stronger pain relief medication your GP may prescribe muscle relaxants). Self massage to the trapezius, SCM and masseter muscles can be carried out at home. You may find sore spots along the muscles. If you do, hold the area until the discomfort/pain decreases. Lessen the pressure you apply if it feels too painful.
1) Massage the trapezius muscles
2) Massage the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles
This muscle is in the side of your neck. You will notice it pops out when you turn your head (use a mirror to help). Work this muscle from near the ear down to the collarbone. Squeeze it between your thumb and the soft part of your knuckles on the forefinger. Do this on each side of the neck.
3) Massage the masseter muscles
The masseter muscles are on the sides of the face. Clench your jaw and you will notice it pop out. Using your fingertips work slowly around the cheekbone along the jaw. Try using small circular movements.
4) Relaxation techniques
Taking slow deep breaths can help relax your whole body and help ease stress and tension. Try the 3/4/5 method. Inhale for 3 slow counts. Hold the breath for 4 counts. Exhale for a count of 5. When you exhale for longer than you inhale, it calms the nervous system and the mind.
5) Applying heat and cold
Hold a heat pack or small hot water bottle to the side of the face. Make sure it has a cover over it or wrap a towel around it. You can alternate heat with a cold pack. This can help relax the muscles and ease inflammation. Limit each application to less than 20 minutes and wait at least an hour in between each application.