The jaw is attached to your skull by the temporomandibular joint or TMJ as its commonly known. I don’t know if you’ve ever suffered from TMJ pain or had a muscle spasm of your masseter (chewing muscle of your face), but it’s quite painful. Lockjaw is another problem that can arise from TMJ issues. Where the mandible becomes displaced and “locks” in place with muscular spasms present because it is no longer able to slide within the TMJ.
Your TMJ and how it functions is essential for all aspects of speech, eating, drinking and of course, breathing. The TMJ can be affected by injury, movement disorder, degenerative wear and tear and physiological conditions, e.g. bruxism, stress, anxiety jaw clenching.
Bruxism (over-activity) of the jaw and associated muscles can create inflammation of the TMJ and result in pain. Likewise, an injury such as a blow to the jaw or fall can irritate and cause pain in the TMJ. The TMJ has been linked to other conditions involving the function of your neck, head posture, chewing, snoring and even vestibular disorders of the inner ear causing dizziness. The TMJ functions by a collagen disc within the joint that cushions and allows ease of movement of the mandible through the joint. If the TMJ disc becomes displaced, you may experience symptoms such as clicking, clunking, locking, pain and headaches (from the overactive jaw muscles).
Myotherapy, remedial massage and physiotherapy treatment may assist with reducing the muscle spasms and restoring normal movement to the joint. Myofascial release and muscle trigger point release followed by TMJ mobilizations is a very effective intervention for issues. Exercise interventions aiming to improve the function of the masticatory muscles can be vital in producing long term results. In all cases that we talk about a proper diagnosis is needed before the treatment plan can begin and depending upon which stage you present at the clinic will determine the path forward.
TMJ issues can involve simple self-guided muscle relaxation and stress reduction techniques to reduce joint swelling, muscle stiffness, muscle spasm and muscle weaknesses. Long-standing conditions may take longer to resolve and may involve referrals to a range of medical doctors or dentists for assessment depending on your case needs to produce the best possible outcome for each and every patient. Night splints may be prescribed by a dentist to reduce wear on teeth and compressive load on the TMJ.
As in all painful conditions, a correct assessment is essential to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Nerves from the face and upper neck can cause pain around the jaw. If symptoms aren’t resolving quickly or recur, often it’s best to seek medical advice.