An often forgotten symptom for many patients is jaw pain. Up to 70% of the population experiences some form of jaw discomfort or dysfunction in their lifetime, such as clicking or grinding of their teeth, but many people dismiss this pain as normal or just deal with it. The good news is that there are conservative ways to treat jaw pain that can have profound effects in a short period of time.
What can go wrong?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) or the jaw joint is responsible for opening and closing the mouth. The TMJ is used frequently throughout the day during eating, talking, swallowing and yawning, so it takes a lot of wear and tear. Sometimes the joint itself can be a cause of pain, while other times it is the group of muscles that help control opening and closing of the mouth that become tight and sore. Common symptoms include inability to fully open or close the mouth, clicking, headaches, ear pain and neck pain. Since we use our jaw so often, improper firing of muscles and an increased load on the TMJ is a common finding in many people and frequently leads to dysfunction and pain. Poor neck posture can also add strain to the TMJ and may increase the load on the joint as well.
How can we help?
The key to treatment is restoring proper functioning of the joint itself and the muscles that help move it. Soft tissue therapy, such as Active Release Techniques (ART), can help to release trigger points typically found in the muscles around the jaw. Decreasing tension on these muscles frequently increases range of motion and alleviates pain in TMJ patients. Mobilizations or adjustments to the TMJ can help restore proper movement in the jaw and will often decrease the amount of clicking a patient experiences. Due to its close connection with the TMJ, it’s also important to ensure that the neck and upper back are moving properly as well. Improving neck mobility and posture can significantly decrease strain on the TMJ and help to reduce pain.
Jaw pain is much more common than many people think and can be effectively treated through soft tissue and joint mobilizations. It’s still important to be examined by a health professional in order to get a proper diagnosis and get the right treatment. The numerous benefits of treatment include increased range of motion, decreased clicking, fewer headaches and less neck pain.