Jaw Joint Problems
The jaw joint, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ), is one of the hardest working in the body.
Every time you, open or close your mouth, chew or speak, your TMJ is being worked.
For some people, however, the TMJ can become painful, clicky or stiff. This can lead to problems opening or closing the mouth, headaches and self-consciousness.
Problems with the TMJ are given the label temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
TMD is a condition that our chiropractors regularly encounter, and we are a referral clinic for other chiropractors in Worcester who need help in dealing with this tricky area.
What Causes TMD?
TMD is quite a vague term. It encompasses a range of problems that cause varied symptoms in the jaw area. An analogy would be giving somebody a diagnosis of low back pain.
As such, there are numerous causes of TMD.
Common causes include direct trauma, previous surgery, dental problems and stress. Sometimes there is no clear cause.
Fortunately, almost all cases of TMD, even those with stress or emotional factors involved, can be described as mechanical. That is to say that they involve mechanical strain affecting the jaw joint and/or muscles.
Mechanical problems are usually fairly straightforward to treat.
How is TMD Treated?
TMD is often best treated with a combination of approaches.
Chiropractors use manual therapy to restore normal movement to the TMJ. This could involve gentle stretches of the jaw joint, soft tissue techniques to relieve muscle tension, or using special instruments to improve mobility of the TMJ.
Your chiropractor will also advise you of home-based techniques that you can do on a regular basis.
Alongside manual therapy, your chiropractor will discuss strategies for dealing with other influences, such as emotional or dental factors.
It can be useful to have a mouth guard, prescribed by a dentist, to relieve strain on the TMJ overnight.
In some instances, specific medication may be useful to relax jaw muscles.
Very rarely, where degeneration of the jaw joint is very pronounced and conservative approaches have failed, injection therapy or surgery may be warranted.
Why Does Stress Cause TMD?
Stress is a common contributory factor to TMD, and in some instances can be the main reason for jaw problems.
The muscles around your jaw and neck have a neurological connection to the part of your brain that deals with stress and anxiety.
When this part of your brain activates, muscles in your jaw and neck also activate.
Long term activation of this part of your brain can lead to fatigue and tightness within those muscles, having an effect on the TMJ.
This can be felt as jaw clenching or teeth grinding whilst you sleep.
Chiropractors are trained to help people with stress and anxiety, and your chiropractor will discuss strategies for self-management with you if required. Your chiropractor can also advise you on other options, such as medication and therapy.
Why Does TMD Cause Headaches?
TMD commonly causes headaches. Most of the time these affect the side of the head.
The proximity of the TMJ to the head can lead people with TMD to describe their pain as headaches. But the TMJ can also refer pain further afield.
Muscles frequently involved in TMD can radiate pain to the side of the head, the forehead and around the eye.
Radiation of pain usually occurs when muscles are irritated, from being put under too much strain or from being over-used.
It is important to remember that muscles act without conscious control, so can become over active even if you don’t think you are over using them.
What to do About TMD
If you have TMD, or think you may have it, the first thing you should do is get it assessed.
The chiropractors at Worcester Chiropractic Clinic are all trained in the assessment and treatment of TMJ problems, and in most cases will be able to give you a clear description of what is causing your pain and the best plan of management.
Where your symptoms do not appear to be mechanical, your chiropractor will refer you for the appropriate care or investigation.
Fortunately, most TMJ problems are simple and mechanical so can be treated immediately.
At Worcester Chiropractic Clinic treatment is included in your initial consultation fee and usually takes place on your first visit.