Countless people suffer from chronic pain stemming from TMJ Disorder. The symptoms are nagging and constant. But TMJ Disorder is a condition easily confused with muscle tightness in the jaw. Fortunately there is lasting relief from both types of pain with massage therapy. So what’s the difference between the two and how does someone know which they have?
What Is TMJ?
TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint. Easy rule of thumb: everyone has TMJ, but not everyone has TMJ Disorder. TMJ is the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull, in front of each ear. These joints are flexible and allow the jaw to move smoothly up and down and side to side, allowing us to chew, talk, yawn, etc. The muscles attached and around the joint control the position and movement of the jaw.
What’s TMJ Disorder and Its Symptoms?
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD for short, thankfully) occurs as a result of problems in the joint (and disc) where the jawbone meets the skull. One of the common symptoms is clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when talking or chewing. Pain could be involved but not necessarily. Other symptoms include:
- Pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint, neck and shoulders. Pain could also occur in or around the ear when chewing, talking, or opening the mouth wide.
- Inability to open the mouth wide.
- Jaw becoming “stuck” or “locked” in either the open or closed-mouth positions.
- A feeling as if the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly.
- Swelling on the side of the face.
- Possible toothache, headache, neck ache, dizziness, earache, hearing problems, upper shoulder pain, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
How is TMD Diagnosed?
There are many other conditions causing similar symptoms to TMD, therefore it is very important to have a dentist conduct a careful examination of the entire area. The dentist will look for specific limitations in range of motion or jaw locking as well as a wearing away of the joint. X-rays may be involved as well as CT scans or MRI.
What Causes TMD?
There are many causes of TMD such as injury causing whiplash, jaw abnormalities, and poor posture. Other causes include:
- Constant teeth grinding or clenching, which puts pressure on the TMJ.
- Dislocation of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the joint.
- Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ.
- Stress resulting in a constant tightening of the facial and jaw muscles.
What’s the Fix?
Some medical professionals may recommend surgery and orthodontics to correct the problem, however more natural solutions are long-lasting and much less invasive and expensive. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends gentle stretching and relaxation exercises to increase jaw movement. Massage therapy mixed with stretching and exercise of the muscles involved significantly loosen up the entire area, freeing the jaw of pain and discomfort. After only one or two sessions people find such relief that many have put away their mouth guards and report a better quality of life.
What If It’s Only Muscle Tightness?
Outside of TMJ issues, the main muscles involved in everyday jaw tightness or discomfort are the masseter muscles. The masseter muscle is the primary chewing muscle. With regular talking, chewing, and stress these muscles develop “knots” (or adhesions) and trigger points just like any other muscle in the body. Most people don’t realize these muscles play a part in headaches, neck aches, and shoulder tension. After flattening out adhesions and removing trigger points the muscle loosens and returns to its natural resting length. It’s so fun to loosen these during a session and hear people say, “Wow I didn’t realize how tight I was in there. I feel so much better!”
I work on both conditions of muscle tightness and TMD daily with high success. With a specific combination of modalities for each, the jaw area immediately loosens up, decreasing stress and tension in the head and neck. After a session, I offer daily exercises and stretches for the jaw to keep the area from tightening.
Another wonderful sigh of relief that you don’t have to live with the pain, even if it’s only nagging. Feel good in your skin again today.
See you on the table!