Your jaw joint is the most active joint in your body. It moves up to 2,000 times each day while talking, chewing, swallowing, yawning, and snoring. However, it has only been within the last 10-15 years that its importance as a source of pain and headaches has been realized.
People who have problems with their jaw joint, or TMJ, often complain of pain and tired muscles with chewing. They can often feel or hear the joint clicking, popping or grinding as well. If you watch yourself open and close the jaw in the mirror, you may even notice that your jaw deviates to the side while it moves. The pain is often on one side of the face and can refer up to the temples, causing headaches. It may also refer to the ear, making it feel as if you have an earache. Most of the time, TMJ problems are aggravated by chewing and opening and closing the mouth.
There are numerous causes of jaw problems, but unless an actual injury to the joint occurs, most patients say that the pain starts gradually and progresses over the course of days or months. TMJ problems are often precipitated by eating foods such as apples, a wide yawn, snorkeling, prolonged dental work, playing a wind instrument, prolonged chewing, sleeping on your stomach, or a neck trauma such as an auto accident. Long-term stress and anxiety can also lead to jaw problems if you clench or grind your teeth in response to that stress.
Conservative chiropractic treatment of TMJ problems is usually very effective. Chiropractic treatment of jaw problems usually involves therapy to help relieve pain, inflammation, and muscle spasms around the joint. Depending on the types of therapies your chiropractor offers, he or she may suggest cold laser therapy to decrease pain and inflammation, ultrasound therapy to help decrease inflammation and muscle spasms or soft tissue massage techniques to help restore normal muscle balance. Nutritional muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory agents may also be recommended when the pain and swelling are significant.
Chiropractic manipulative therapy to the TMJ and neck area may also be warranted. Because of its closeness to the neck, there are biomechanical and neurological connections between the TMJ and the cervical spine. Chiropractic manipulation is effective in restoring normal joint function to the jaw and the neck which will help to relieve pain and muscle spasms. It also helps to realign the joint so that it moves normally.
At the beginning of treatment, your chiropractor may also recommend you avoid eating foods that are difficult to chew or require you to open your mouth wide to eat. These foods include thick sandwiches, apples, steak, nuts, and raw vegetables. You should also be aware of any teeth grinding or jaw clenching that you’re doing. You want to relax your jaw with your lips together and your teeth apart. Pipe smoking and sleeping on your stomach should also be discontinued. Sleeping with an orthopedic pillow to maintain a good curve in your neck may also be beneficial.