The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. There is a joint located on each side of your face just in front of your ear. Every time you talk or open your mouth and chew, your TMJs are moving and working. The TMJs acts like a sliding hinge on each side of your jaw and allow you to open your mouth.
Sometimes the TMJs can be painful or restricted. Symptoms of TMJ disorders can be pain when chewing, aching in and around the ear and or face, locking of the jaw which can make it difficult to open or close your mouth and clicking or grinding. This is often referred to as TMJ disorder.
The exact cause of a person’s TMJ disorder is often difficult to determine and may include several factors. It may be related to a jaw injury or trauma, or arthritis with inflammation of the joints, overactivity of the jaw muscles (from grinding or clenching of the teeth) and malalignment of the teeth.
There are several things you can do to help TMJ pain including:
- Reducing the ‘load’ and stress on the joints
a. This may involve eating softer food, cutting your food into smaller pieces
b. Avoid clenching or grinding your teeth.
c. Avoid resting your jaw in your hand
d. Avoid excessive mouth opening
- Massage the muscles around the joints
- Gentle stretches of the jaw, mouth, and neck.
One aspect of treatment that can help the long-term causative factors of TMJ pain is treatment of the neck and working towards even jaw opening. The position of the head and neck plays an integral part to the alignment of the TMJ on each side of your face. If you have tight neck muscles on one side, it can ‘pull the head and jaw to one side – even marginally. This affects the alignment of the jaw and the TMJ as you open and close your mouth. The unevenness of the joints over time will lead to wear and tear of the joint with arthritis, inflammation, and pain. Try looking in the mirror – open your mouth and if your chin deviates – even a little – to one side then you have uneven loading of your TMJs.
What can you do to help prevent this or help if you have already got to this point?
Stretches and strengthening of the neck and head muscles can play an important role in relieving the uneven load of the TMJ. Tight upper traps muscles or poor posture with a forward head posture (poked neck) all play a detrimental role.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Posture correction in sitting and standing.
- Ensure your workstation set up and environment are set up will to maintain an upright posture at the computer.
- Goldfish exercise
- Keep tongue on the roof of your mouth.
- Place one index finger on the TMJ.
- Place your other index finger on your chin.
- Allow the lower jaw to fully drop down and back with help from the index finger
- Monitor this full jaw opening in a mirror to make sure the opening is straight (tongue stays up).
- Upper traps stretch
- Start in a seated position.
- Place the hand on the symptomatic side under your chair.
- Take your other hand and place it on your head.
- Tilt your ear directly down towards your shoulder and hold this position.
- You should feel a stretch down the side of your neck.
- Neck retraction:
- Standing or sitting with shoulders back and chest up, bring your chin straight back, creating a ‘double chin’.
- Do not allow your head to bend up or down as you do this.
- Hold for 2-3 seconds, repeat 10 times
Hope this helps, Deb