Self-Care Habits for TMJ Pain
Some estimates say that TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders impact over 10 million people across the United States. TMJ disorders, or TMJD, can cause severe pain and a lot of problems for those affected. The jaw is an extremely complex joint and for most people, symptoms can arise without any obvious cause or reason.
What is the Temporomandibular Joint?
Your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ is the joint that connects the lower part of your jaw (your mandible) to the temporal bone of your skull. You actually have two TMJ’s – one on each side of the head. These joints are located just in front of your ears, and are among the most complicated joints in the body. This is because the jaw can move in many directions. It can hinge open and closed, and it can also glide from side to side. This is what allows us to make the movements that let us talk, chew, and yawn. The TMJ also has a disc within the joint, similar to how your spine has discs. This disc acts as a shock-absorber and helps to absorb some of the forces the joint sustains during chewing and other movements.
Disorders of the TMJ can occur for several reasons, and each person might experience these problems differently. The following signs can indicate a disorder of the TMJ:
- Jaw stiffness
- Locking of the jaw
- Upper and lower teeth that do not fit together correctly
- Grinding of the teeth
Jaw problems do not usually occur on their own. Many people who experience problems and dysfunction of the TMJ also have many other symptoms. In fact, these symptoms may be present, but you may now know that they come hand-in-hand with TMJD.
- Facial pain
- Neck pain and stiffness
Conservative TMJ Care You Can Try at Home
There are certain things you can try to do on your own to see if your TMJ issues will resolve. Incorporating the following habits might help you to find some relief from jaw pain and discomfort:
- Icing the jaw – ice might help to reduce inflammation in the temporomandibular joint, which can help ease the pain you’re experiencing.
- Eating soft foods – eating tough, chewy foods like steak or a bagel can irritate the jaw even further. Choosing softer foods can be gentler on the jaw and might help in reducing pain.
- Stress relief – when you’re stressed, you might find yourself clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth. This can be contributing to pain and dysfunction of the TMJ. Practicing stress-relieving techniques such as meditation, yoga, and gentle exercise such as walking can help.
- Avoid pushing your jaw’s range of motion to its maximum – being aware of your jaw as you chew your food, talk or yawn is important. Take care not to open your jaw too wide or create too much repetitive movement doing things like chewing gum throughout the day.
Trying these conservative options will hopefully bring along a reduction in your jaw discomfort. Many people who have had TMJ issues for any length of time may have also had recommendations to use anti-inflammatory medications or over-the-counter painkillers. Sometimes dentists or physicians might suggest the use of a bite guard to protect the teeth from grinding and to try to stabilize the jaw.
Finding TMJ Relief Through Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care
Since many TMJ sufferers also experience neck pain, it is not too far fetched an idea that the root cause of the problem can actually be in the neck. Within a very small area sits a few very important structures – your TMJ, your atlas (C1 vertebra), and your brainstem. Your atlas is the uppermost bone in your spine. It lies just beneath your skull and is the most freely movable vertebra in your spinal column. It also has the very important job of protecting your brainstem, off of which branches what are called cranial nerves. The atlas can become misaligned through injury or wear and tear and this can cause irritation of the cranial nerves that control the muscles of the face and jaw, as well as carry pain signals to the brain. An upper cervical misalignment can result in a tightening of the muscles of the jaw, neck, and face which can lead to the jaw dysfunction you are experiencing.
Upper cervical chiropractic is a branch of chiropractic care that specifically addresses the atlas. We utilize diagnostic imaging that allows us to pinpoint exactly how your atlas has shifted. This gives us the information we need in order to perform an individualized adjustment for each of our patients. Upper cervical chiropractic adjustments are known for being very gentle and extremely precise. They also have the benefit of being designed to hold in place for as long a period of time as possible. When things stay in normal alignment longer, the body is given the chance to heal uninterrupted. As a result, many patients begin to feel better quickly, and normal jaw function can return.
If other TMJ self-care options, or even other interventions, have not gotten you where you’d like to be, then perhaps an underlying upper cervical misalignment is preventing you from healing fully. A complimentary, no-obligation consultation will give you the opportunity to learn more about upper cervical care and see if it can be the missing piece on your path to better health.