27 September, 2023
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ): How do you get rid of jaw pain & tension
If you've ever experienced a sharp pain or tension in the jaw, you might be familiar with the term Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). It’s a condition that affects the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) and can lead to a lot of discomfort. For some, this pain can become a chronic issue, making daily tasks like talking or chewing a painful ordeal. However, relief is possible!
The Lowdown on TMD
Before we delve into what you can do, let's talk about what TMD actually is.
The TMJ is the hinge-like joint that connects your jaw to the skull. Overuse, injury, stress, dental arch and dental work (like braces or pulled teeth) can cause this joint to become misaligned or inflamed, leading to TMD.
There are several muscles around the jaw. Some a teeny tiny and others larger reaching up to your temples. These muscles can become tight, weak and overused just like any other muscle.
Similar to your spine, there's a disc between the joint space. The disc cushions the joint to allow free movement by absorbing stress.
TMJ movement & position is impacted by the neck position. When the head juts forwards, as might happen when you are sucked into your phone or slouching on the couch, the jaw joint is pulled backwards compressing the disc space. Ouch!
Furthermore, your tongue position can also impact your TMJ.
Chronic TMJ Pain
When you've had a painful jaw for years and years - maybe as long as you can remember, it's called chronic pain. Persistent pain can be due to ongoing habits like your are always in fight-or-flight mode or always chewing on one of side.
Chronic pain also can change the way that the brain "sees" and responds to the TMJ. With persistent pain, the brain expects that the jaw is in a dangerous state and so brings your attention to it with pain. This is a process called Central Sensitisation where central means central nervous system (brain & spinal cord) and sensitisation refers to the hyper-responsive state. Central sensitisation also plays a role in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraines, chronic pelvic pain and more.
Home Exercises for TMJ Relief
- Relaxed Jaw Exercise: With your lips closed, let your teeth come apart, relaxing your jaw muscles. This exercise helps "reset" to a relaxed position as your default.
- Chin Tucks: Sit or stand tall. Pull your chin straight back, creating a “double chin.” Hold for three seconds and repeat 10 times. If you find this difficult to do, try lying down to do it.
- Tongue Up: With your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, slowly open and close your mouth. Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth so depending on the flexibility of your tongue, you may not be able to open your jaw too wide.
Note: Always be gentle when doing these exercises. If you feel pain, stop immediately and consult your chiro, osteo or physio. This blog is intended as generalised advise and it may not be the most appropriate exercises for you.
Chiropractic Care for TMJ
Chiropractic care mainly focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system. A misaligned jaw or neck can strain the TMJ, and chiropractic adjustments can address these misalignments.
- Manual Adjustment: Your chiropractor may use their hands to press areas around the jaw, neck, or skull to relieve tension and misalignments.
- Instrument-Assisted Techniques: Tools like the activator (commonly called the “clicky thing” by patients) can be used to provide a targeted adjustment without the "crack".
- Soft Tissue Therapy: This can help relieve muscle tension around the TMJ. This might include work inside the mouth as well as around the neck, shoulders, cranium and jaw.
- TMJ Home Exercises: Targeted home exercise program to relieve the tension and pain and reduce reoccurrence.
- Neurological Rehabilitation: If your TMD is contributed by an overly sensitive nervous system, then techniques to calm the nervous system are utilised.
Our chiropractors are experienced in treating TMD and chronic pain. They've attended extra training in the area as it's such a fascinating region of the body and have personal experience with their own TMD.
Acupuncture for TMJ
Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles at specific points on the body to rebalance the body's energy (called Qi) and alleviate pain.
- Local Points: Needles can be inserted around the jaw, ear, and forehead to directly target TMJ pain.
- Distal Points: These are areas away from the jaw but can still influence the energy flow to the TMJ region.
Several sessions might be required to see lasting results, especially when dealing with long term stress, mental health and tummy troubles that frequently accompanies TMD. Depending on your situation, Chinese herbs might be recommended.
Address the Root Cause
Sometimes TMD is a symptom of a bigger picture. That might be anxiety, trauma, ADHD, hypermobility or dental misalignment / overcrowding. In these cases, treating the jaw gives relief but it's also important to address the underlying issues as well.
Some options might include:
While TMD can be a persistent and annoying problem, solutions do exist! With treatments like chiropractic and acupuncture, there's hope for those seeking natural, evidence-based methods to alleviate TMJ pain and tension.
About the Author
Dr Cassie Atkinson-Quinton - Chiropractor, Pilates Instructor and Perinatal Yoga & Pilates Instructor
With 10 years experience treating musculoskeletal conditions, Cassie uses a range of therapies including gentle adjustments, specific massage techniques, laser therapy and home rehabilitation plans incorporating Pilates & yoga. She regularly treats headaches, migraines, back pain and sports injuries.
Dr Chee Yeoh - Acupuncturist & Chinese Medicine Doctor
Dr Chee is a talented and caring Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine practitioner. Understanding that health is more than just needles, she will work with you to transfer your lifestyle according to your needs and Qi patterns. She sees chronic illness, fertility & pregnancy, aches & pains, digestive issues and mental health complaints.