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My Jaw Hurts!

Have you ever experienced pain with chewing gum or opening your mouth widely to yawn? Does this sometimes send pain up your temples and give you a headache or even ringing in your ears? Do you sometimes hear popping or clicking in your jaw? There may be many reasons for this but more than likely, you are experiencing some form of Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD).

Let’s break this down. The Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the junction between your skull bone (temporal bone) and your jaw bone (mandible). There are several muscles that control the opening, closing, forward, backward, and sideways motions of this joint. There is also a disc inside this joint that acts as a shock absorber. After all, the TMJ is the most used joint in the body! We need it to talk, eat, cough, make facial expressions, sing, and more. So this disc is very important in preventing degenerative joint disease here. Sometimes, this disc can become displaced and cause popping or clicking sounds when we open or close our mouth.

A big reason for TMDs is poor posture. Let me lead you through a quick exercise. Assume the worst posture you could ever have: round your shoulders, jut your chin forward and up, and let your trunk slump. Notice where your jaw is sitting. You might find that the bottom row of your teeth is drawn backward towards your ears and the front of your neck is long and stretched out. Now assume the best posture you could ever have: roll your shoulders back, tuck your chin in, and sit up nice and straight. You might now find that the bottom row of teeth is more in line with the upper row. Now imagine that you spend most of your time in bad posture… it makes sense that you might start to chronically stress the ligaments, muscles, and the joint in ways that they weren’t meant to be!

Another large reason for TMDs is stress. Stress can cause an array of body habits. One of them is clenching the jaw, which creates tension and constant compression at the TMJ. With this comes muscle spasm, which can then send pain upward, giving you a splitting headache.

To help alleviate symptoms, it is important to avoid poor posture, chewing gum, eating hard or large pieces of foods, biting your nails, sleeping on your stomach, and grinding your teeth. Try to stifle yawns if this worsens your symptoms. You may need to see a dentist to determine if a mouth guard is appropriate for you if your partner or loved ones have mentioned that you grind your teeth at night. Since the TMJ can be affected by stress, it is also important to relax your mind and body with breathing techniques, exercise, and mindfulness.

Severe forms of TMDs can be quite debilitation. Imagine you can’t even open your mouth or chew down to eat your favorite chocolate chip cookie! Physical Therapists at EMH specialize in the treatment of TMDs. We can help release muscles from both the outside and inside of your mouth, mobilize the jaw to decrease pain and restrictions, guide you through importance exercises to help normalize your jaw movements, and work on strengthening and stretching tissues around your face, neck, and shoulder to improve your posture and jaw control. This will ultimately set you up for success as you eat that favorite cookie of yours! Now check out two great exercises to relax your jaw below.