The Truth about TMJ + How to Get Relief

By Steve Kravitz, PT, DPT, CST

Approximately 12% of the population or 35 million people in the United States are affected by Temporomandibular Disorders at any given time, according to the TMJ Association.

While both men and women experience these disorders, the majority of those seeking treatment are women in their childbearing years. The ratio of women to men increases with the severity of symptoms, approaching nine women for every one man with major limitations in jaw movements and chronic, unrelenting pain.

So, what is it, exactly?

To better explain, you have two temporomandibular joints which work together as a pair, one in front of each ear. It acts as a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. Each joint has a disc between the ball and socket. This disc cushions the load while enabling your jaw to open widely, rotate, or glide. In short, it enables movement, chewing and other functions. So basically, any dysfunction in this system of muscles, ligaments, discs or bones can lead to pain and discomfort.

Symptoms of TMJ

Symptoms felt by patients experiencing TMJ include:

Many times, patients have often revealed the pain as a dull, throbbing pain, which comes and goes in their jaw joint and nearby areas. It’s also common for patients to experience no pain, but still describe problems moving their jaws. Occasional clicking or discomfort in your jaw joint or chewing muscles is very common, and is not always a cause for concern. Under this circumstance, the problem typically goes away on its own in several weeks to months. However, if the pain you are feeling is severe and last longer than a few weeks, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider.

Studies show how stress and TMJ are linked, so learning ways to manage and relieve stress such as exercise, meditation, and diaphragmatic breathing techniques may help decrease symptoms of TMJ. You can work with your physical therapist to learn appropriate exercises that you can practice at home.

How You Can Manage the Pain Naturally:

  • Eating an Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Inflammation surrounding your joints in your jaw can magnify pain and worsen TMJ symptoms. Eating a lot of easy-to-chew foods can help reduce swelling and joint deterioration.

  • Exercising, stretching, meditation, or breathing techniques: These are helpful to keep symptoms under control naturally. There are several practices that contribute to easing the tension created around your jaw. While you typically want to take pressure off of your jaw, practicing gentle stretching and muscle-relaxing exercises can help increase your jaw movement and range of motion.

  • Reduce Stress and Get Enough Rest: Do your best to sleep on your back or your side (and avoiding stomach sleeping) while using a pillow support between your shoulder and your neck. It might also be beneficial to try wearing a guard to help decrease grinding throughout the night.

  • Applying an Ice Pack or Warm Compress: When you apply an ice pack or warm compress around your jaw, this can help relax your muscles, lower inflammation and improve circulation. When adding ice, make sure to do no longer than 20 minutes per hour and avoid keeping the ice pack directly on your skin.

Why CranioSacral Therapy Can Help

According to the TMJ Association, there have been some studies that have found a combination of practices including yoga, massage therapy, and meditation aid in relaxation for patients experiencing TMJ. Craniosacral Therapy can be very helpful in unwinding and releasing the muscular tension around your jaw that contributes to TMJ. This gentle approach focuses on releasing tensions in the soft tissue that surround your central nervous system. Because this therapeutic approach will restore the body’s natural state of health in the brain and nervous system, it is excellent for prevention of chronic conditions including stiffness, inflammation, and immune imbalances, as well as for healing injuries—even ones that occurred long ago that may still be affecting you.

Craniosacral Therapy is just one part of a unique, personalized approach to Physical Therapy which has been developed over twenty years by Dr. Steve Kravitz of Steve Kravitz Physical Therapy.  To learn more about how Craniosacral Therapy can help you with TMJ, contact us or read more on our blog.

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