TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint – a pair of joints located on either side of your face just in front of the ear that connects the mandible to the temporal bone of the skull. The term TMJD, or temporomandibular joint disorder, refers to the variety of conditions that can affect the jaw and cause pain, discomfort, and loss of normal jaw function. When the jaw doesn’t do its job properly, it can limit your ability to speak, chew, and yawn, impacting many functions that allow you to get through your day normally. It is estimated that up to 12% of people have TMJD, with twice as many women affected than men.
Believe it or not, your jaw is one of the most complex joints in your entire body. It allows for a broad range of movement – it can move up and down, side to side, as well as glide forward and backward. The TMJ has the unique feature of having an articular disc that divides each joint into two to accommodate all of the movements of the jaw. Painful TMJ disorders can occur due to erosion or displacement of the cartilage disc, arthritic changes to the joint, or damage to the TMJ from an injury or impact.
Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder
Disorders and dysfunction of the TMJ can have symptoms that vary quite a bit. Presentation of a problem can vary from one person to the next, and even the same person might experience symptoms that change from day to day. Some of the most common symptoms that TMJ sufferers experience include:
- Vertigo and/or dizziness
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Limited range of motion of jaw (unable to open the mouth as wide as you should or joint locking)
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Back pain
- Shoulder pain
- Facial pain
- Pain and tenderness in and around the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
- Sounds coming from the TMJ (I.e. clicking, popping, grinding)
TMJ Self-Care Options
If you experience TMJ pain and/or dysfunction, there are relief options that you can try on your own that might help.
- Eat soft foods – hard, crunchy, or very chewy foods can aggravate the TMJ and cause repetitive-use damage to the cartilage. Foods that require you to take a big bite with a maximally stretched jaw (I.e. apples or corn on the cob) can also put a lot of undue stress on the TMJ. Sticking to soft, easy to chew foods for a period of time will give the tissues of your jaw time to relax and heal.
- Ice – if your TMJ is angry and inflamed, applying an ice pack can mitigate inflammation and help numb the pain.
- Moist heat – a warm, damp towel or compress applied to an aching jaw can help to relax clenched muscles and bring some relief.
- Sleep position – a side-sleeping position might help you to avoid nighttime grinding or clenching. Making sure that you have a pillow to support your neck, keeping your head in a neutral (level) position, can bring relief to a sore jaw.
- Relaxation – using relaxation techniques and meditation can help TMJD sufferers by helping to deal with pain. Deep, slow breathing can help to regulate pain sensations, reduce stress (which can cause jaw clenching and grinding), and aid in relaxation. When you’re able to relax the muscles of the face and jaw, relief may not be too far behind.
- Posture – monitor your posture and watch for things like cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder or propping your jaw up with your hand on one side. Slouching at a desk or while standing can also cause stress on the neck and jaw, causing TMJ pain or dysfunction.
Natural, Sustainable TMJ Relief with Upper Cervical Chiropractic
There are several reasons why upper cervical chiropractic care makes sense to explore for people who are experiencing TMJ pain and dysfunction. Your atlas, the uppermost vertebra in your spine, is positioned such that it holds your head up. The tips of the atlas vertebra (called transverse processes) sit just behind the temporomandibular joint on each side of your face. It is easy to see how a misalignment of the atlas can disturb the proper resting position of the jaw and cause pain or dysfunction of the TMJ.
When it comes to the muscles of your jaw, they receive their nerve supply from the trigeminal nerve, which branches off the brainstem protected by the atlas. The trigeminal nerve gives pain sensation to the face and mouth and also activates the muscles required to move your jaw in order to chew, speak, and yawn. When the atlas misaligns, this nerve can be irritated, leading to pain and reduced muscular function to the face and jaw.
Upper cervical chiropractic care focuses specifically on the correction of the atlas. The joints that your atlas forms with the skull above and the axis vertebra (C2) below are the most freely movable ones of the entire spinal column. What sets our care apart from a more general approach is that each patient’s atlas misalignment is measured precisely, and an adjustment is then customized for them. Because of the precise nature of upper cervical care, adjustments are very gentle and effective. They are also intended to hold in place for as long as possible, allowing for the natural healing process to proceed. This gives many patients with TMJ conditions relief that is sustainable and long-lasting.
If you’ve been down the road of trying other TMJ treatment options with limited, temporary results, then upper cervical chiropractic care might be the missing link. At Symmetry Health Chiropractic Center, we offer a complimentary and obligation-free consultation so that you can learn more about whether or not our approach would be a good fit for you.
To schedule a complimentary consultation call our Cedar Park, TX office at 512-572-3976. You can also click the button below. If you are outside of the local area you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at www.uppercervicalawareness.com.