The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is an important facial sliding hinge joint that controls the movements of your jaw - opening and shutting it as well as moving it from side to side. It is a joint that works heavily every day, so it's unsurprising that pain in the TMJ is common. Very often the pain is temporary and will go away on its own quite quickly but, occasionally, it can become chronic. TMJ disorder can be treated by a chiropractor, both by treating the joint directly and by giving you advice to prevent it from coming back.
What is TMJ disorder?
TMJ disorder is when your temporomandibular joint becomes painful or stops working as it should. Symptoms can include:
• headache/ear pain/neck pain/facial pain
• "locking" of the jaw
• clicking, popping, or grating sounds when moving the jaw
• pain while chewing
• a stuffy sensation in the ears
• a tired feeling in the face
• the bite changing or becoming uncomfortable - the teeth no longer seem to fit together properly when the mouth is closed
• facial swelling
What causes TMJ disorder?
There are two main types of causes for TMJ disorder - physical causes and behavioral causes. Some people experience both.
• The TMJ disc moving out of its proper alignment
• The TMJ getting damaged by a blow to the jaw
• Cartilage in the TMJ getting damaged due to arthritis
• Some connective tissue diseases
The main behavioral cause of TMJ disorder is teeth grinding and/or jaw clenching. This is often involuntary and can happen when you are asleep. A big factor that feeds into teeth grinding and jaw clenching is stress and anxiety, which can both make it more likely for you to clench your jaw.
Can chiropractic care help with temporomandibular joint disorder?
Many people visit a chiropractor for help with their TMJ disorder. Just as there are two types of causes for TMJ disorder, there are also two streams of treatment that a chiropractor can offer - direct treatment of the joint itself and help with behavioral changes that can prevent it from happening again.
Your chiropractor will first take a thorough medical history and conduct a physical examination to make sure that the symptoms you are experiencing are TMJ disorder and can't be explained by anything else. This can include X-rays to examine the bone and MRI scans to examine the cartilage.
Direct treatments of TMJ disorder can include chiropractic adjustments to the joint itself to bring it back into alignment. Myofascial release is another direct technique that helps to release the muscles that surround the TMJ.
Stretches and exercises can help to reduce the tension in the muscles that surround the TMJ and heat/cold therapy and massage therapy can help reduce inflammation and improve blood flow. A chiropractor can also help to treat your neck and shoulders if the pain has moved there.
Alongside these physical treatments, your chiropractor will also be able to give you lifestyle advice that can help to reduce the chances of your TMJ disorder happening again. This can include eating softer foods for a while, relaxation techniques to reduce your jaw clenching/teeth grinding, home massage and stretching techniques, and how to reduce nailbiting and other habits that could be affecting your jaw.
TMJ disorder is common but the pain and lack of mobility in the jaw can affect your day-to-day life. A chiropractor can help by directly treating the TMJ itself and the muscles surrounding it and can give you advice to help stop any behaviors that could be contributing to the problem.