During my clinical rotation in San Francisco, I enjoyed munching on carrots during the day. Then a nagging pain on the right side of my jaw began when I ate any hard foods. I thought it would go away. I ate on the other side of my jaw, chopped up the carrots but nothing helped the nagging jaw pain. As a physical therapy student in my last year of my doctorate program, I began my research.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the most used joint in the body. You use your TMJ 1500-2000 times daily. Dysfunction or TMD of this joint causes pain, limited mobility, headaches, earaches, ringing in the ears, and swallowing problems.
Between the jaw (mandible) and the skull lies a soft tissue that cushions the bones and slides between them as the jaw opens and closes. As the jaw opens the mandible and the soft disc need to slide forward together to allow space to open the mouth. They also need to slide together when closing the jaw.
The three common types of TMD include two (anterior disc displacement with reduction and anterior disc displacement without reduction) that are related to joint alignment and the movement of the disc and the third (inflammation of the joint capsule) is due to soft tissue inflammation of the joint.
What should you do? Relaxation techniques are important. This includes a relaxed mouth-open position by 1) holding the tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth and 2) keep the teeth slightly apart while keeping your lips apart and 3) breath normally. This allows the muscles and joints to relax and help reduce the joint irritation.
During the day, keep your head in line with your shoulders as you stand and walk. A forward head posture places strain on the chewing muscles. Practice chin tuck exercises throughout the day. Gently tuck the chin down and back toward your throat without dropping your chin to your chest.
As my pain worsened I sought out a physical therapist who taught me these techniques and who guided me through the exercises and provided manual intervention to correct my movement. The physical therapist taught me how to stabilize my jaw, reduce clicking, and how to maintain proper strength to reduce flare-ups. Within 5 weeks my pain was gone and I was able to spend the last weeks of my clinical rotation enjoying the cuisine of San Francisco.
If you are suffering from TMJ or jaw pain, physical therapy may be the right choice for you. Request an appointment through our website to get you started on the road to recovery from TMJ and jaw pain.