The Do’s and Don’ts for TMJ Disorders

TMJ relief infographic

When your TMJ (temporomandibular joint) is normal, it’s easy to take jaw function for granted.  The temporomandibular joints move the jaw to open and close the mouth while chewing, talking, yawning and other motions. They endure a significant amount of pressure during these activities. As a result, they are vulnerable to problems within the joint itself or in the muscles that control movement.  When your jaw isn’t functioning as it should, it’s important to know what to do and what not to do.

TMJ Disorders - What to Do

Do try ice

Applying an ice pack to the TMJ can help to decrease inflammation, numb pain, and promote healing.  Ice (or an ice pack) should never be applied directly to the skin. Instead, wrap it in a thin cloth and apply it to the tender area for 10-15 minutes at a time.

Do apply moist heat

A hot water bottle or a warm towel can soothe tight muscles that can be contributing to your jaw pain.

Do think about the foods you’re eating

Planning your meals to include softer, easier to chew foods can get you through an episode of TMJD.  Instead of hard to bite or chew foods like whole apples or corn on the cob, opt for softer foods like scrambled eggs and smoothies.  This can save you from putting additional strain on your TMJ and the muscles that aid in biting and chewing.

Do practice relaxation techniques

Stress can be an underlying factor in TMJD, causing you to clench your jaw and grind your teeth.  Relaxing the muscles in your face, jaw, and lips will ease some stress on the jaw joints.  You might try techniques such as meditation, yoga, massage therapy, or soaking in a warm bath. These can help you learn how to better relax your muscles.

Do try jaw exercises

Performing slow and gentle jaw exercise can help bring balance back into the right and left TMJs, increase jaw mobility, and help with healing.  You can start with gently massaging the tender areas to reduce tension and pain. Taking your jaw through its natural ranges of motion (open/close, left to right, and front to back) with some light resistance with your hand can help to strengthen and balance muscles.  There are many online resources that can walk you through, step by step, various TMJ exercises to help with TMJD.

Do maintain good posture

How you hold your head has a big impact on the alignment of your jaw.  When you’re seated or standing, try to keep your neck in a neutral position over your shoulders and your shoulders pulled back rather than rounding forward.  Craning your neck down (I.e. while using a smartphone or tablet) can strain the neck and jaw, leading to TMJ issues.

TMJ relief infographic

TMJ Disorders - What to Avoid

Many of the don’ts of TMJD care are self-explanatory once you’re aware of the habits you may have developed over time without thinking of it.  Your jaw is designed for specific functions and using your head, mouth, jaw, and teeth to do things it wasn’t made to do can put a lot of strain on the TMJ.  Keeping these things in mind can help to protect your TMJ:

Don't bite your nails, chew on a pen or pencil, or crunch on ice cubes

Unnecessarily (and often unconsciously) using your jaw to chew on your nails or other objects can easily lead to increased TMJ pain and make your discomfort harder to manage.

Don’t use your teeth as tools

If you have TMJ issues, you should absolutely avoid using your teeth to do things like tear tape, open up chip or cereal bags, or otherwise pull or pry with your jaw.  Giving your jaw a rest from this abnormal stress can help it to heal.

Don’t cradle the phone between your ear and shoulder

If you have a job where you spend a lot of time on the telephone, it can be easy to wedge the phone between your ear and shoulder to keep your hands free.  Rather than doing this, which can force your jaw into an abnormal position and cause wear and tear, opt for a headset or simply be sure to hold the phone to your ear with your head in a neutral position.

Don’t prop your head up with your hand underneath your chin

Sitting with your head propped up on your fist or in your hand is a habit that causes imbalance in the TMJ.  Without realizing it, people will often default to this position on one side when sitting at a desk. Notice if you do this and then consciously try to avoid it.

Don’t sleep on your stomach

Sleeping on your stomach requires that you have your head rotated to one side through the night, which can stress the jaw.

Don’t ignore your symptoms

If you are experiencing common TMJD symptoms like jaw pain, facial pain, neck pain, headaches, earaches, and more, it’s best not to ignore your symptoms in hopes that they just disappear.  Getting to the root of the problem sooner can help you to avoid bigger problems in the long run.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic Gaining Traction Among TMJ Sufferers

From an upper cervical chiropractic perspective, a misalignment of the atlas vertebra, the uppermost one in the neck, can be a major component in TMJ pain and dysfunction.  When the atlas is out of alignment, it can affect your posture, cause issues with jaw positioning, and affect the nerves that control the muscles that influence jaw movement.

Upper cervical care is in a distinct position to help TMJ sufferers address the root cause of their trouble in a gentle, precise, and natural manner.  Chronic issues with TMJ and jaw function can wear you down over time. Upper cervical chiropractic care is a great way to get to the bottom of your condition and get to feeling better naturally.  

Upper cervical chiropractic, has shown promising results in reducing temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and improving jaw function, according to several research studies.

Key Findings

  • A 2012 study published in the Journal of Philosophy, Principles & Practice of Chiropractic involved 5 patients with chronic TMJ pain lasting over 9 years on average. After receiving a single upper cervical adjustment, the patients reported an average pain reduction from 5.9/10 to 0.9/10 on the Visual Analog Scale, an 85% improvement.
  • Another study found that over an 8-week period, patients with TMJ disorder experienced a dramatic improvement in their symptoms following upper cervical care, with jaw pain decreasing from an average of 5.9/10 to 0.9/10 on the pain scale, an 85% reduction.
  • Researchers suggest that the close anatomical relationship between the atlas vertebra (top bone in the spine) and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) may explain why correcting atlas misalignments through upper cervical specific adjustments can often resolve stubborn TMJ pain.

Proposed Mechanisms

  • Upper cervical adjustments aim to correct misalignments in the upper cervical spine, particularly the atlas vertebra, which can affect the functioning of the TMJ due to their anatomical proximity.
  • By restoring proper alignment and biomechanics in the upper cervical region, upper cervical specific chiropractic care may alleviate nerve, tissue, and joint damage resulting from the initial misalignment, thereby reducing TMJ pain and improving jaw mobility.
  • The gentle and precise nature of upper cervical specific adjustments allows for long-lasting corrections, giving the body time to heal from the effects of the misalignment.

While more research is needed, the available evidence suggests that upper cervical chiropractic, may be an effective non-invasive approach for managing TMJ dysfunction and associated pain.

Click the button below to find an upper cervical specialist in your area to have your upper neck evaluated for misalignment that may be contributing to your TMJ symptoms.

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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.