Tyler Laducer, LMT
Many times referred to as just TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) is misleading since everybody actually does have a TMJ, two to be exact. TMJD is when one or both joints of the mandible are in a state of discomfort from, but not limited to pain, popping, and limited mobility. The Mandible is the only bone in the body that tries to run in unison on two separate joints. There are many possible causes of TMJD including myofacial strains, structure/posture, function and habit, injury or trauma, stress or anxiety, and medical conditions (infections, arthritis, joint problems, etc.). There are three main muscles that can contribute to TMJD which are Temporalis, Masseters, and Pterygoids. A few auxiliary muscles that may also add to dysfunction and originate in the neck are Sternocleidomastoid, Scalenes, Suboccipitals, and Splenius Capitis.
There are a few self-care techniques that can be done to help care for TMJD.
The first self-care technique is more about being self-aware of what is being done with the jaw. Pay attention to what is being chewed. Limit items such as chewing gum, hard candies, chips, and anything else that requires a lot of jaw work (bread, gummies, etc.). Over working the jaw with these types of foods create a hard workload for the muscles above and can cause them to become exhausted and very tight or over contracted.
Limit biting with the front teeth (ie. biting into pizza or biting your nails) as it will put stress on the TMJ. Should the muscles become over contracted, then stretching the jaw is a great way to help ease the pain and tightness.
Opening the mouth as wide as possible allowing those muscles a break from being clenched or worked will help lengthen the jaw muscles so they won't feel over contracted.
Finally, any self massage on the areas of complaint will help allow them to relax as well. Using either massage tools or even a couple of fingers on the outside of your jaw with minimal pressure is all that's needed. With self-care the TMJD may not be healed, but it can at least be maintaine
There are a few conservative, yet effective options available outside of something as severe as surgery. Should the TMJD pain be from the structure of the mouth, dental care can oftentimes help with the teeth and jaw by especially helping with the alignment. Many dentists and orthodontists also have TMJ protocols. Using chiropractic care can help with the alignment of your neck and jaw. By aligning neck and jaw many of the TMJ muscles get a chance to relax and release. Massage therapy is also a very effective method. Focus massage on the neck and jaw can loosen the muscles and cause them to be used more optimally. Lastly, laser therapy is also an effective method that can be used on the jaw. Infrared laser therapy helps increase the healing of any injured areas. If trying to avoid surgery, these are very effective methods that may allow for much less painful days, increased function, and better range of motion.
Tyler Laducer L.M.T., C.R. is a licensed massage therapist (LMT) and certified reflexologist (CR). He practices at Washington Park Chiropractic in Denver, CO as the lead massage therapist and specializes in Sports Massage, Medical Massage, and Reflexology.