What to Do When TMJ Pain Doesn’t Go Away on its Own
By some estimates, over 10 million Americans suffer from some type of TMJ disorder. Any issues with your jaw can cause major complications in your daily life. TMJ disorders are not only painful, but they can affect your ability to speak and chew normally. Jaw problems can also impact sleep quality and can be linked to sleep disturbances like grinding or clenching your teeth at night and sleep apnea.
When you’ve been diagnosed with a TMJ disorder (sometimes referred to as TMJD), the course of treatment is not always clear. You’ve probably been told any number of things like, “wait and see if it gets better on its own”, “stop chewing gum”, or “don’t bite your nails”. However, since the TMJ is arguably one of the most complex joints in the body, there is no standard recommendation when it comes to the right care options.
Where is my TMJ Pain Originating From?
TMJ is an abbreviation for temporomandibular joint. The jaw joint is formed by the mandible, which is the lower part of the jaw, and the temporal bone of the skull. They are unique joints because they can move in several ranges of motion – the jaw can hinge open and closed, shift from left to right, as well as glide backward and forward. Because of this freedom of movement, we can make complex movements that are required for chewing, speaking, and yawning.
TMJ disorders can be separated into three major categories:
- Problems with the muscles that control jaw movement (myofascial pain).
- Issues with the jaw joint itself, which can include pain secondary to a dislocated jaw, injury to the condyle (the part of the mandible that inserts into the temporal bone of the skull), or a displaced or damaged articular disc.
- Arthritis in the TMJ which can be degenerative or inflammatory in nature.
Making TMJ disorders even more complicated to manage, a person might experience one or more of these conditions at the same time.
A TMJ Problem Can Cause Many Related Symptoms
TMJ disorders may present themselves very differently from one person to the next. Symptoms might also vary based on where the problem originates. Some TMJD symptoms are more apparent since they involve the jaw itself:
- Pain in the muscles that control jaw movement (around the jaw itself and further up near the temples and around the ears)
- Restricted movement or locking of the jaw
- Hearing clicking, popping, or grating sounds when opening and/or closing the mouth
- Bruxism, or grinding of the teeth
- Noticing changes with the way your upper and lower teeth fit together
You may not think to connect other TMJD symptoms with your jaw problem since, at first, they might seem unrelated. However, when you understand how the jaw functions and moves, it’s easy to see how the following symptoms can be a part of your condition:
- Headaches or migraines
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Neck pain
Symptoms may worsen after chewing food, after an injury or blow to the head, neck, or jaw directly, or in times of increased stress.
The Path to Sustainable TMJ Relief
Many TMJD sufferers find themselves feeling like they’ve exhausted all of their options when it comes to finding relief that lasts. They’ve tried all of the common treatment recommendations:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Muscle relaxants
- Stabilization splints or mouth guards
- Following a soft food diet
- Jaw exercises to stretch and strengthen
- Applying ice and/or heat
There is another option that more people with TMJ are discovering that has helped them to achieve natural, sustainable relief. Upper cervical chiropractic care is a unique branch of chiropractic that focuses on the junction between the head and neck. The C1 (atlas) vertebra sits at this very important location, and it surprises many people to learn that this bone is located just behind the TMJ on either side of the face. The atlas vertebra is located close enough to the jaw and inner ear to cause problems throughout this area. This helps to explain why jaw problems often occur hand in hand with neck, ear, face, and head symptoms.
The atlas commonly misaligns as a result of accident, injury, or wear and tear over time. It does so more easily than other areas of the spine because the atlas is the most freely movable segment which allows for the flexibility and range of motion of your head. If it rotates out of position even slightly, it can negatively affect the jaw by causing unequal muscle tension on one side of the face versus the other, irritating the nerves that provide function to the muscles that control the jaw, and causing postural changes that put increased strain on the TMJ.
The simple yet effective solution that we offer is getting to the underlying cause of our patients’ TMJ disorders by ensuring that the atlas vertebra is positioned normally. When we are able to identify and correct these very specific atlas misalignments in a precise and gentle manner, our patients report a decrease in their jaw pain and discomfort as well as associated headaches, neck pain, earaches, and other related symptoms. Contact us to learn more about how we can be a part of your TMJ solution.