I’ve been seeing a lot of jaw issues recently, and it is a big problem for a lot of Americans. Anywhere from 3 million to 10 million people in the United States alone suffer from jaw issues.
So what are some of the causes of pain and tension in the TMJ? To start, oftentimes the jaw issues are secondary to muscular issues, meaning that the joints themselves aren’t the problem! This is a common finding in our office. The problem arises from the soft tissues around the jaw, which can be the muscles, ligaments, and nerves.
One way this manifests is the muscles get really tight, often due to stress or injury. Muscular tension can change the way a joint moves. Additionally, prolonged tension in a muscle can create what’s called a trigger point, which is a ball of muscle fibers that essentially get tangled in a knot and send referral pain elsewhere. When there’s a trigger point in one of the muscles around the jaw, referral pain can travel to the neck, eye, forehead, sinuses, and even inside the ears.
Many of the conditions people go to ENTs and dentists for are because of how this muscle tension can manifest.
Common symptoms of traditional TMJD include:
- Jaw clicking or popping
- Grinding teeth at night
- Pain with opening mouth or chewing
- Limited ability to open mouth
- Jaw deviates to one side when opening
- Lock jaw
- Pain or swelling around the jaw joint
- Pain in cheek muscles
Secondary conditions that can be exacerbated or provoked by TMJD include:
- Tinnitus / ringing of the ear
- Full feeling in the ear
- Pressure behind the eyes
- Sinus pain
- Sensitivity to light
- Neck or shoulder pain
- Arm / finger numbness or pain
- Difficulty swallowing
For a quick self check, you should be able to take your middle three fingers and put them in between your teeth vertically. If you can’t do this, it demonstrates you have a tight jaw and need to get the tension worked out.
Ways you can manage and relieve TMJ tension include:
- Wear a nightguard
- Chiropractic care
- Self massage to the muscles in and around the jaw
- Neck stretches
- Correct posture
- Stress reduction