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How to Reduce TMJ Pain Now

By Beth Jennings, PT, MPT 

 

Serena always had clicking with mouth opening and closing, but it’s getting louder and is now painful. It’s finals week, and the headaches are making it hard to concentrate. 

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is where your lower jawbone connects to your skull. The painful condition of the joint and its surrounding structures is called temporomandibular disorder (TMD). TMJ is the joint. TMD is the painful condition.   

Michael is a boxer who has taken many hits to the face over the years. Waking with jaw pain after sleeping face down, Michael hears a loud “clunk” in the left jaw area when yawning.   

Dwayne sings in the community choir and has noticed it’s painful and more difficult to hit the big notes in practice. Dwayne admits to being under a lot of stress, and headaches have begun to occur daily.   

  

Symptoms of TMD  

  • Chronic or fluctuating pain over one or both sides of the jaw. 
  • Clicking, popping, or grinding noises with jaw movement.  
  • Restricted movement of the jaw.   
  • Headaches or ear pain. 
  • Increased tension in the jaw and neck muscles. 
  • Dizziness, neck pain, or tinnitus (ringing or other noises).  

  

Who Is More Likely to Get TMD?  

A clear cause is unknown, but there appears to be an increase in the likelihood of developing TMD with:  

  • Poor alignment of the upper and lower teeth or dentures.  
  • Increased tension in the jaw muscles.  
  • Increased emotional stress.  
  • Abnormal movement of the jaw – too much, too little, or uneven movement.  
  • Chronic poor posture.   
  • Behaviors such as smoking, nail-biting, leaning on your chin, and sleeping on your stomach.  
  • Prolonged mouth opening such as with singing, playing a wind instrument, or with dental work.  
  • Trauma to the face or jaw, particularly after jaw fractures. 

  

When It’s Not TMD  

Jaw pain can be a sign of a heart attack. Go to the emergency department if your jaw pain is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, chest pain, or other upper body pain.  

Consult with your dentist if you are also having pain inside your mouth. Discuss nightguards, a device worn in the mouth to reduce tooth damage and muscle tension if you grind your teeth.  

Ear pain, itching, draining from the ear, or loss of hearing should be evaluated by your primary care physician or an ear specialist (ENT). 

Headaches are also a symptom that can be serious. If your headache is severe, consider a visit to the emergency room for evaluation.  

  

Self-Care Tips to Reduce Your Symptoms  

If you sprained your back, you would delay spring cleaning or skip your soccer game, right? With TMD, you should rest your jaw. 

 

  • Limit foods that are crunchy, tough, or require lots of chewing. Skip the steak salad and go for the halibut with mashed potatoes instead. Or maybe the soup if your pain is severe. The more inflamed your condition, the softer your diet should be.  
  • Sit up straight. Improving your posture will put your neck and jaw in its proper alignment where it functions with the least strain.   
  • Use ice or heat. Cover the area below your cheekbones to just in front of your ears for 10 minutes.   
  • Reduce grinding and clenching your teeth. Rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your top teeth, lips together, teeth slightly apart.  
  • Address any dental issues. Discuss an appliance called a nightguard to protect your teeth. 
  • Manage your stress. Find a stress-relieving activity.  
  • Self-massage. Gently massage the muscles in your cheeks, temples, and around your ears. Keep your jaw relaxed.   

  

How Physical Therapy Can Help  

When the self-care techniques are not helping, it is time to get an evaluation.   

A physical therapist (PT) at FYZICAL-Forest Grove can evaluate your individual situation and expand on the self-care techniques; provide direct treatment to the muscular and joint issues of the neck, head, and jaw; and prescribe exercises to improve joint motion. 

Your PT can also discuss if you need to see your dentist or primary care provider.   

If it’s time to visit us in the office, contact us for an evaluation.   

Do you know someone who might benefit from this post? Forward it through the links at the top of this page. 

 

Beth Jennings, PT, MPT is a freelance writer and a physical therapist. 

 

Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

 

References: 

Dressendorfer R, Beale K. Temporomandibular Disorders. Richman S, ed. CINAHL Rehabilitation Guide. July 2021. 

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