The TemporoMandibular Joint (TMJ) or jaw works hard for us. It’s one of the most complex joints in the body as it moves up and down and can also slide front to back and side to side. Unless you’re suffering from TMJ pain right now, you’ve probably already done a number of jaw related things today; such as, talking, eating, yawning and breathing. Because it does so much for us, it makes sense to give the TMJ a bit more attention, at least we think so! Jaw dysfunction doesn’t just related to jaw pain, lock jaw and clicking of the jaw but can also create headaches, neck tension, ear aches and teeth or gum pain. Below you will find some causes of TMJ and our top tips to start giving your jaw a bit more TLC.
Do you have TMJ dysfunction?
How do you know if you have TMJ dysfunction? First, it’s quiet common with 50-75% of people dealing with TMJ issues at some point in their life; second, our jaw is utilised about 2000 times per day! So in short, it’s highly likely if you have some of the symptoms listed above, it’s TMJ. The most common functional symptom of TMJ dysfunction is the inability to open the mouth very wide. Four fingers is considered normal range of movement and 3 fingers is considered functional. Use your non-dominant hand when testing. Next have a look in the mirror and slowly open and close your mouth; did it go from side to side when you opened or closed? If so, combined with pain or tension, it’s time to try a few of our tips or come into see a Myothrive practitioner for some personalised advice and get some TMJ pain relief.
Causes of TMJ dysfunction
With jaw pain, sometimes there is just one cause, which when altered can make a huge difference to how you feel; sometimes, it’s a combination of things going on. Genetics can play a role, degenerative conditions such as arthritis can be a factor, you may have done an injury to your jaw; most commonly though it’s a musculoskeletal imbalance and/or the nervous system at play.
Some common nerve related and musculoskeletal causes include:
- Clenching and grinding at night (more common) or during the day
- Pressure on the trigeminal nerve can refer pain to the head and face as well as affect chewing function
- Postural habits such as slouching and head forward posture
- Faulty pain signals causing tension to protect, when there is no reason to protect
If you are new to the world of TMJ and experiencing it for the first time, please know that in most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders is temporary and you can achieve TMJ pain relief with:
- self-managed care such as movement therapy and strengthening away from poor posture
- Myotherapy modalities such as dry needling help to naturally stop the pain cycle. Great in conjunction with movement therapy to help address the underlying causes
- Mouth guards worn at night to help with clenching and grinding and to hold the jaw in a better “neutral” position
- Botox injections (typically last around 3 months and better when used in conjunction with other therapies to address underlying causes)
Tip1. Get a good nights sleep
Did you know practicing good sleep hygiene helps reduce teeth grinding and clenching at night? Here are our top tips for getting into a better sleep routine and achieving some TMJ pain relief!
- Get off your devices at least 30 minutes before bed and don’t take them into the bedroom. Grab a boring novel instead. This hack will help in calming your nervous system. I’m sure we’ve all accidentally read an email we shouldn’t or seen a facebook post that upsets us right before bed. Better to deal with these things in the morning, not right before you get your beauty sleep! Not only that, unless you’ve amped up the yellow tones of your screen, the blue light sends day time signals to your brain which reduces melatonin. Melatonin is absolutely vital for a good, deep sleep.
- Make the room dark and quiet. If there is outside noise that disturbs you, consider a white noise track to play as you are going to sleep. I love white noise and have been using it for years. If I wake in the night I play the track again and I’m back to sleep in no time! Also make sure any lights from electronics are set to low and faced away from you. Better yet, get them out of your room all together if you can.
- Limit caffeine and dark chocolate consumption. The average half life of caffeine is about 5 hours. This means if you’re having a 4pm pick me up coffee, you’re probably not going to sleep deeply. Dark chocolate also contains caffeine, in fact, 2 servings (around 50g) of 90% dark chocolate can contain as much caffeine as a standard cup of coffee! It also contains a stimulating amino acid called tyrosine, so enjoy your dark chocolate earlier in the day if you want a good nights sleep.
Tip 2 – Work on your posture
- Happy, healthy necks make for happy, healthy jaws! This might involve head retractions or chin tucks for example.
- Relaxed, square shoulders makes your head and neck alignment easier. This might involve strengthening the upper back and stretching the chest muscles for example.
- A stronger core (not just abs!) makes for ease of movement through neck and shoulders. This might involve some Pilates style exercises for example.
- Strong and balanced glutes. Balance should be achieved between left and right sides and between front and back planes. This helps offload neck and shoulders when doing certain day to day tasks such as opening doors and reaching into cupboards for example.
Tip 3 – How to deal with a flare up
- Avoid using the jaw too much. Stick to soft foods or smoothies and soups for a few days until it calms down.
- Perform your prescribed exercises. If you don’t have any, head to our instagram or facebook page for a demo of something you can try. As always with a new exercise during a flare, start with minimal reps and sets and if it feels okay after an hour you can try some more. Just try one at a time as well or you won’t know which is okay and which isn’t! Typical exercises used are head retractions, tongue on roof of mouth while you open your mouth, sliding the jaw forward and back, sliding the jaw side to side.
- Perform some self massage on the jaw, neck, upper back and shoulders. Head to instagram or facebook for videos and pics of how to do this. Usually this will involve massaging from the top of your jaw near your temple down towards the angle of the jaw. It may also involve putting your thumb in your mouth to get the inside jaw muscle however we only recommend doing this one if you’ve been shown how with a practitioner. You can use a spiky ball or a body back buddy to help release your neck, shoulders and upper back.
Need some more help or have a question about TMJ pain relief? Book an online consultation for assessment and self-care prescription of your TMJ! Click here to find a time that suits you best.