Updated: Oct 6, 2021
The Temporomandibular Joint (it’s a mouthful) or TMJ is frequently the cause of jaw pain. This joint is located in the skull and helps move the jaw up, down and left to right, allows for talking, chewing and yawning. You can find your TMJ by placing one finger at the bottom of the ear while slowly opening and closing the mouth.
The TMJs are hinge type joints on either side of the jawbone bone, which are separated by a disc, made of cartilage and supported by muscles & ligaments. The pain is often caused by tight supporting muscles, inflammation and swelling to the area or even degenerative changes, which in turn may cause the following symptoms;
A clicking or popping sound when opening or closing the mouth
The jaw can feel stuck or locked
Tender when touching the area
Pain when eating and/or yawning
Pressure behind the eyes
Tight neck muscles
There may be many reasons for TMJ pain including, bruxism (grinding of teeth), poor posture or rheumatoid arthritis.
Bruxism or teeth grinding, whilst awake or asleep, may be caused by anxiety, anger, and stress or lifestyle habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine. Excessive grinding or clenching of the teeth may eventually cause TMJ pain and degeneration or even tooth destruction leading to problems with your bite.
Poor posture can also have a negative affect on the TMJ. Many of us spend long periods at work hunched over a computer with a foreword head posture which puts a huge amount of strain on our shoulder, neck, head and facial muscles. The lower jaw may move forward putting an excessive amount of strain on the muscles of mastication (chewing) which could impact the bite and eventually the TMJ.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term autoimmune condition that occurs when the immune system attacks healthy tissues and joints resulting in swelling, pain and stiffness. RA most commonly affects the wrists, hands and feet however other joints including the TMJ can also experience painful symptoms. The associated chronic inflammation can lead to a loss of cartilage in the joint resulting in pain, swelling and limited movement.
What we can do as Osteopaths
If you are suffering from jaw pain or symptoms that sound similar to this we as trained osteopaths can help by taking an intensive case history, assessment and diagnoses, before embarking on a course of treatment. Gentle osteopathic treatment with exercises may help reduce pain levels and improve movement, while stress management, such as mindfulness, could be appropriate to help reduce your anxiety. Ice or heat may also be recommended to reduce your particular symptoms or we may even suggest a visit to your dentist or an orthodontist for bite correction.