The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is one of the smallest and most intricate joints in the body and therefore fairly complex to treat when dysfunction occurs. The TMJ is located in front of your ears and is where the temporal portion of your skull meets your mandible (or lower jaw). Most people think of the joint as a hinge joint, which is accurate, but there is also an aspect of glide/sliding that must occur for actions such as chewing food.
Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJD) can occur in the joint itself or the musculature surrounding the joint. If the muscles surrounding the joint become unbalanced or restricted, the proper motion of the joint cannot occur. Common symptoms of TMJD may include (but are not limited to): headaches, ear or facial pain, vision problems, teeth problems, balance problems or dizziness, and throat or neck pain. Typically, there is a progression of TMJD that begins with a fatigued feeling in the jaw that then progresses to either feeling or hearing a pop/click and may end with one of the aforementioned symptoms. This may seem inconsequential at the time but, as with any overuse injury, the effects can snowball and cause some bigger issues in the not-so-distant future.
Typically, the muscles that become overused are the muscle of mastication (chewing). Several habits could play into this overuse but most commonly clenching or grinding as well as gum chewing are the main culprits.
So what can you do? Talking to your Dentist/Physiotherapist regarding treatment options that they prefer is a great place to start, especially if your TMJD is due to clenching or grinding. Often times they will recommend a mouth guard for sleeping that is uniquely fitted to you, amongst other treatment options. Beyond these steps, it is important to address the soft tissue component of the dysfunction.
Active Release Technique and Combination therapies with LASER (Practised by Grant Gibson and Harjinder Kaur at the Surrey Sports and Rehab Physiotherapy Clinic) to the major muscles of mastication can help break up some of the adhesions in the area that are inhibiting proper mechanics. Addressing the cervical spine for joint dysfunction or muscular issues may also be beneficial, especially if some of your pain is being referred from your neck. Since the two structures lie so closely together and thus impact each other, this is not uncommon to see. Trying to keep your jaw relaxed, avoiding gum or stomach sleeping (which literally puts pressure on your jaw for 6-8 sleeping hours), self-massage and exercising the jaw (it is controlled by muscles, after all) are some great at home steps you can take.
Still have questions about your TMJ dysfunction? Get in touch with the clinic (604-581-1911), we’d be happy to help!