Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) pain is a frustrating problem for many people. Poor sleep quality, pain when eating and constant discomfort can make life miserable. Many treatments for TMJ focus on the joint itself, splinting at night, injections, medication. But there are several other ways to approach the problem that are not commonly prescribed or recommended by healthcare providers. These approaches may work on their own or in combination with other more conventional treatments. Sometimes trying one or two new things is all it takes to get out of pain and back to the enjoyable things in life.
Here are 6 things to consider if you suffer from TMJ pain:
- Get your neck checked out: TMJ exists as a diagnosis on its own however it can be triggered by other problems in the area. Tightness, pain and stiffness in one part of the body can transfer stress to another or even create muscle tension through a phenomenon called radiation. One huge trigger for TMJ is neck tightness, stiffness and posture. Many of these things creep up on you over time so you may not even realize you have a neck problem. Or if your TMJ is your number one problem you may not be paying attention to your neck or assume that the neck problem is caused by the TMJ not the other way around. A trip to the PT is recommended in this scenario. You may even want to schedule a consult rather than a full appointment just to get an educated opinion before you dive in to a plan of care.
- Dry Needling: In the past few years, Dry Needling has become a very popular way to relieve pain, decrease muscle spasm and normalize joint movement. The TMJ is no exception to this. Tension in the jaw and neck muscles can be relieved in just a few minutes with expert placement of a few needles. The effects of Dry Needling last up to 7 days after the procedure so TMJ sufferers can enjoy better sleep, fewer headaches and less jaw pain.
- Massage: In the same way that Physical Therapy and Dry Needling relieve muscle spasm and normalize movement, so does massage. Many TMJ sufferers choose to have a massage once a week as part of their plan of care. Getting muscles into a relaxed state on a regular basis not only allows them to heal but it also re-educates the body to know what “normal” muscle tone should be.
- Address those headaches: Headaches are like the smoke that goes with the fire of TMJ. They are very often found together and almost always are related to each other. Tension headaches and migraines may appear to be unrelated to TMJ and may be treated with different techniques and medications but in truth they are closely related or even triggers for each other. If you treat only the TMJ and not the headache you may be wasting your time. Treating the whole person is a much more effective approach.
- Relaxation techniques: As with massage, time devoted to relaxation pays big dividends when dealing with TMJ. Stress and anxiety are often part of the big picture when treating TMJ as they are additional triggers for muscle spasms and pain. Scheduling an hour of Yoga or Meditation into your week will improve sleep quality and mental clarity also.
- Food Allergies: Dietary advice for TMJ usually addresses food texture and size. Yes, you should avoid apples, chewing gum and hard foods when your TMJ is flared up, but what about food as a trigger for symptoms? Food allergies and intolerance are widely recognized as triggers for migraines and joint pain. Google “anti-inflammatory diet” and you will find long lists of things to avoid. If you suspect food may be a trigger for your TMJ, consider having a food allergy test to see if there is anything you can eliminate from your diet to improve your symptoms.
I hope you found some of these tips helpful. If you do suffer from TMJ I encourage you to keep looking for answers. It’s not uncommon to suffer from TMJ for years then suddenly make a breakthrough simply by trying a new treatment or technique. In many cases symptoms of TMJ can be greatly reduced or eliminated by adding a few new things to your routine.