We often see clients coming in to our office with complaints of jaw pain. While this type of pain may not get in the way of your day to day activities, it is one of those types of pains that stays top-of-mind and can sometimes lead to bad headaches, pain when eating and sleep problems – all which CAN get in the way of day to day life.
Lets talk about the jaw first. You may hear the term ‘TMJ’ when people talk about jaw pain. Everyone has TMJ. That’s right, everyone. Why? Because, TMJ stands for temporal mandibular joint. (In plain English, it means ‘where the skull bone meets the jaw bone’.) This joint sits just in front of your ear – you’ve got one on each side of your face. This joint one of the most used joints in the entire body – the average person opens and closes their jaw a minimum of 2000 times a day! And the muscles here are really powerful – typically they dish out about 150 lbs. of pressure. The two TMJ’s operate completely independently of one another, but yet have to work in balance to open and close your mouth. And a lot of us are out of balance.
A long procedure in the dental chair, whiplash, and heavy stress that has you clenching your jaw and or grinding your teeth can all cause imbalances in the TMJs which can lead to jaw pain. THIS, is commonly referred to as TMJ Disorder or TMD.
In addition to pain in the jaw, you might also experience pain in or around the ear, difficulty opening and/or closing your mouth, headaches, tension in the muscles of the neck & shoulders and clicking or popping noises when opening your mouth.)
So what can you do?
Keep in mind that for most people, the symptoms of TMD generally do resolve. Whew! There are some things you can do to help such as the following simple self-care exercises:
- Set a timer on your phone for a ‘jaw check’. On my iPhone I was able to ‘ask Siri’ to ‘remind me once an hour to relax my jaw.’ When your phone alerts you that an hour is up, take a moment to check in with your facial muscles. Are you clenching? Do you feel tightness? Consciously try to relax any tension you feel and perform slight open/close movements with your jaw.
- Apply gentle, circular pressure to sore jaw muscles over a warm (not hot) compress. Moist heat can be very soothing to tight muscles.
- Find ways that work for you to RELAX. Massage therapy, yoga and meditation are 3 great options to bring deep relaxation into your life. You might even consider coloring!
And, what can WE do?
In addition to stress management, massage therapy for TMD focuses in on the primary movers of the jaw as well as associated muscles of the face, head and neck. A session may include intra-oral work (massage of the jaw muscles working from the inside of the mouth where they are best accessed.) Although this technique can be quite intense, it is not necessarily painful. Since it deals with muscles that are rarely touched, they respond to less pressure. Gloves are worn while working inside the mouth to release the muscles and fascia involved.