By Sally LeDuc, PT |
Telltale signs of possible Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction (TMD) include: radiating facial, jaw, ear, or neck pain; jaw muscle stiffness; limited jaw movement or locking upon opening or closing; painful jaw clicking, grating, or popping; and headaches which often time occur after eating chewy-type foods. Interestingly enough, headaches are one of the most common reasons people seek care and can account for one-third of the outpatient visits at a neurologist’s office. One cause of headache is from clenching or grinding the teeth due to stress or jaw muscle tension.
What is the incidence of TMD?
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, nearly 10 million Americans are affected by TMD with women much more likely to be affected than men; ratios from 3:1 to 9. And, about half the population report at least one telltale sign at one time or another. If signs and symptoms are ignored, the problem can become serious.
Anatomy and Physiology: The lower jaw bone or mandible is literally suspended from the skull and articulates to the skull at the TMJ, a joint just in front of the ear. How it ‘hangs’ or how your teeth approximate to one another top to bottom and side to side is often due to muscular length and tightness. Tightness, lack of muscle tone, and ‘too much flexibility or instability’ are key contributors to dysfunction. The muscles of the head and neck as well as the muscles in the chest, shoulders, and back can contribute to imbalances that can cause TMD. In addition, almost every individual with TMD is a ‘shallow-breather’ and does not perform enough diaphragmatic breathing during the course of a day.
Today, most clinicians agree that surgery should be a last resort. There are many things that can be done to resolve and prevent TMD. Don’t ignore possible signs and symptoms. After all, managing them quickly and effectively can return you to a healthy and happy lifestyle sooner than you might think, but if left unmanaged you could have a progressively worsening condition.
A Few Simple Self-Care Tips:
1. Adhere to “Pain-free Eating” – “If it hurts to eat it, don’t eat it. Note that the pain or headache may not come on for an hour or so after you finish eating.
2. Apply ice packs to the jaw area at least 2x per day for 10 minutes.
3. Improve your Posture – You probably slouch so “Sit-up and Stand Tall.”
4. Reduce Life Stress – Avoid those and that which causes you to clench your jaw.
5. Don’t be too quick to use an over-the-counter Night Guard – it may cause more harm than good. A night guard should be designed to position the jaw so as to decrease muscle activity, not increase it, such as one with a rubbery consistency.
6. An anti-inflammatory medication may help.
7. Be careful when you yawn so that you don’t open too wide.
8. Quit gum chewing!
9. Seek guidance from a specially trained provider sooner than later.
1. Hilton, L. (2007). “TMJ Therapy” retrieved from www.todayinpt.com.
2. Headache Fact Sheet. Lifting the Burden. Available at www.l-t-b.org/pages/18/index.htm.
3. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research – access at www.nidcr.nih.gov.
4. Issa, T.S and Huijbregts, P.A. (2006). Physical Therapy Diagnosis and Management of a Patient with Chronic Daily Headaches: A Case Report. The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy. 14(4). pp. 88-121.
For more info, call Body Wisdom Physical Therapy 775-827-3777.