Do you suffer from pain in your face, or does your jaw make noises, or is it hard to open and close your mouth?
Chances are, you are one of the 25% of the population that have an issue with their Temporo-Mandibular Joint or TMJ.
Your TMJ is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. It lets you move your jaw up and down and side-to-side, so you can talk, chew and yawn.
Problems with your jaw and the muscles in your face that control it are known as temporomandibular disorders (TMDs).
Signs and symptoms
The three cardinal symptoms of TMDs are pain, restricted movement, and noises in the TMJ.
There can also be other symptoms as well that are a result of a TMD.
These include the following:
Pain or tenderness in the jaw, especially at the area of the joint
Popping/clicking of the jaw
Sensation that the jaw is “catching” or “getting stuck”
Pain that feels like a toothache
Ear pain or sounds of cracking in the ears
Ringing or popping sounds in the ears (tinnitus) or a sense of fullness in the ears
Headaches, including migraines
Tight, stiff, or sore jaw or neck muscles
Muscle spasm in the jaw
Chin numbness or tingling
Pain at the base of the tounge
Pain, swelling, or a lump in the temple area
Locking or dislocation of the jaw (usually after widely yawing), referred to as lock jaw
Dizziness or vertigo
TMDs are predominantly caused by an issue with the actual TMJ or the muscles of the joint.
However there are also many other factors that can also complicate TMDs.
These can be:
Misalignment (malocclusion) of or trauma to the teeth or jaw
Teeth grinding (Bruxism)
Stress anxiety – tightens the muscles of the TMJ
Excessive gum chewing
Intra articular disc derangement
Chronic pain syndromes or increased pain sensitivity
Spinal Symmetry Treatment
Your jaw attaches to your body to your skull. As we have discussed in previous articles, in particular Article 20 “Chasing the pain vs whole body Spinal Symmetry care”, your whole body functions according to how your entire structure is functioning.
So the first step when treating a TMD issue is to actually assess the whole body structurally.
When we assess what is occurring in your structure, we use a grid system.
This grid is used according to this set of priorities, in order:
The horizontal line through the Hips/Pelvis
The horizontal line through the Shoulder girdle
The horizontal line through the Skull/Jaw
The vertical line through the Spinal Column
All jaw issues first need to have a solid foundation to sit on before they will be able to stabilise and stop producing symptoms.
Generally, this means that it will be vary from person to person in how long this takes and what will be required to achieve a solid foundation first in the hips/pelvis, and then in the shoulder girdle.
We use this grid system to have access in correcting your TMDs in the long-term, and not just as a quick fix that potentially return days/weeks/months later.
Once we are at the 3rd priority in the grid system in your body, we are able to assess how your jaw is attached to the cranium (skull), how the cervical vertebrae are aligned, and how all the muscle and ligaments of the area are functioning.
Then depending on what is presenting to us, a range of adjustments, soft tissue work, mobilisations and cranial work can then be performed to restore the function of the TMJ.
It does need to be noted that TMDs are complicated, as often multiple factors can affect them.
Usually treatment delivered by a practitioner, as well as a range of home treatments may also need to be followed up on to ensure the TMD doesn’t become an ongoing issue.
Home treatment can include all in the list below, and to help to relieve ongoing symptoms, medical treatment may be required to compliment treatment you receive from us.
At home treatment
Exercises – see below
Avoid resting your chin on your hand
Avoid holding the phone between your shoulder and ear.
Avoid aggravation to the TMJ – eg.chewing gum
Eating soft foods
Botox Injections to relax the muscles of the jaw.
Over the counter non sterodial anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
Prescription medications such as muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, sleep medications or nerve pain medications.
Surgery in severe cases
As discussed, TMDs can be very complicated. Structurally, they have potentially taken the load of 2 unstable foundations below the TMJ, and therefore may have been structually dyfunctional without showing symptoms for a long period of time.
Treatment from a Spinal Symmetry practitioner, as well as creating a change in habits and activities that are affecting your jaw may also need to be taken into account, as well as considering some exercises which we have shown below.
These exercises affect different aspects of your TMJ. Not all of them will help your exact course of pain, so it is best to speak to a practitioner first to identify which may be best to do.
And always, if you are unsure, or have any questions about these exercises, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Please also note:
You should NOT experience an increase in pain while doing jaw exercises.
If the exercises are painful, STOP doing them and see your practitioner.
1. Relaxing the muscles around the jaw
Set aside two 5-minute periods each day at a time when you are relaxed – eg just before you get up or go to bed. Sit upright in a chair to perform all the following manoeuvres:
Close your mouth and make sure teeth are touching but do not ‘clench’ your teeth, resting the tip of your tongue on your palate just behind the upper front teeth
Run the tip of your tongue backwards towards your soft palate as far back as it will go, keep your teeth together
Force your tongue back to maintain contact with the soft palate and slowly open your mouth until you feel your tongue is being pulled away. Do not open your mouth any further. Stay in this position for five seconds then close your mouth and relax
Repeat this whole procedure slowly but firmly for the next 5 minutes.
As you open your mouth you should feel the tension in the back of your neck and under your chin. The first few times you perform the exercise do it while checking in a mirror that the teeth move vertically downwards and do no deviate to either side.
If the exercise is being performed correctly there will be no clicks or noise from the joints. If there is restart the exercise and continue practicing until it is click free.
2. Put your mouth through some resistance training.
Repeat this exercise 3 to 6 times
3. Exercise the joint in the opposite direction by providing resistance while closing your mouth.
Place your thumbs underneath your jaw and your index fingers on the joint of the jaw
Push lightly with both your thumbs and your index fingers as you close your mouth.
Repeat this exercise 3 to 6 times.
4. Hold your tongue on the roof of your mouth as you slowly open and close your jaw.
Repeat this exercise several times.
5. Exercise your jaw with side-to-side movement.
Open your mouth and place an object that is less than 1/2-inch thick, such as a pencil or a popsicle stick, between your teeth.
Move your jaw slowly to one side, then the other.
Repeat this exercise several times, then choose a thicker object to place between your teeth when the exercise is no longer challenging.
6. Put the same item between your front teeth to exercise your jaw with a forward
Slowly move your bottom jaw forward until your upper teeth are behind your lower teeth.
Repeat this exercise several times, again replacing the object with something thicker when the exercise seems too easy.