If you experience regular pain in your jaw, face, ear or neck area when you move your mouth you may already be familiar with the term Temporomandibular Joint Disorder or TMJ. TMJ actually refers to a collection of muscle disorders that cause pain and disrupt movement of the jaw.
TMJ is most common between the ages of 20 and 40 and affects more women than men. While actual numbers are unknown, it is estimated that over 10 million people are affected by this condition. Pain from TMJ is generally temporary and occurs in cycles, usually disappearing with no need for medical intervention.
It’s unknown exactly what causes TMJ, but injury, jaw abnormalities, poor health and improper nutrition are all thought to be contributing factors. Chronic stress, depression, and anxiety can also lead to tightening of the facial muscles and clenching or grinding the teeth, causing more pressure on the joint.
But despite the fact that this condition rarely indicates a serious problem, the pain and discomfort it causes are very real and for those suffering from it, relief is high on their priority list. Here are a few things we’ve found to help give you that relief from the radiating pain and alleviate the popping jaw.
Massage the Pain Away
For immediate relief try a self-massage technique for your face and head. This YouTube video gives you a technique to relieve the pain and pressure and to help prevent future headaches. This is also something that can be done any time so you always have a tool to stop the pain in its tracks.
Up Your Magnesium Consumption
In 2008 Baylor University conducted a study of 23 women who suffered from severe TMJ, and found that in addition to other nutrient insufficiencies, 22 percent of these women had a magnesium deficiency. This led them to the conclusion that poor diet was a contributing factor in the seriousness of the TMJ.
Our bodies don’t make magnesium so it’s important to supplement it with magnesium rich foods such as nuts, molasses and leafy greens. Most adults ingest amounts far below Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations of 400 to 420 mg for men and 310 to 320 mg for women, depending upon age.
Though their exact function in easing the symptoms of TMJ are unknown, magnesium does work as a muscle relaxant and supplements are frequently used in the treatment of this condition. It’s important to get a quality supplement and be aware that too much may cause loose stools. If this happens simply cut back to a more tolerable level.
Improve Your Posture
Our head is meant to sit in perfect alignment on top of our shoulders. Constant use of phones and other electronics cause our head to remain in a forward position for extended periods. This can lead to permanent misalignment, making it harder for surrounding muscles to hold up the head.
One way to check your alignment is to stand with your back to a wall and press your heels and hips against it. If your head does not naturally fall into line and easily touch the wall as well, your posture may be contributing to your jaw pain.
Exercises such as sitting knee pillow squeezes, static ankle squeezes and wall towels can help alleviate posture problems and provide relief for the discomfort associated with your TMJ.
Exercise Your Jaw
A 2013 study from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University showed that jaw exercises helped decrease recovery time for jaw function issues. Participants did three cycles of stretching movements four times a day while another group wore a splint at night. The range of motion when opening the mouth increased more quickly for the group that participated in the exercises than the splint group.
There are a variety of exercises you can do on your own to help strengthen the muscles and increase range of motion in the jaw area. You may want to try some spine exercises as well to help loosen the spinal cord and enhance the nervous system.
A Few More Ideas
- Get a good cervical pillow
- Use ice and hot massage when needed
- Don’t chew gum or ice
- Don’t smoke
If All Else Fails, See a Professional
If you’re still not getting the relief you need, you may have a more chronic condition that should be treated by a professional. Treatments can include an occlusal splint or possibly TMJ rehab which may incorporate ultrasound and electrical stimulation, flexibility and strengthening, and education in relaxation and other self-management techniques.
TMJ is a painful condition, but it doesn’t have to keep you from living the life you love and doing the things you want to do. By utilizing some of the above suggestions and making a variety of important lifestyle changes, you’ll be ready to deal with the pain and discomfort it produces, and well on your way to overcoming it once and for all.
Photo: Jenessa Read