When your jaw is working right and 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, making them 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 in order to find relief.
TMJ Disorders – What to Do
- Do try ice – applying an ice pack to the TMJ when it is feeling irritated can help to decrease inflammation, numb pain, and promote healing. Ice (or an ice pack) should never be applied directly to the skin – wrap it in a thin cloth and apply to the tender area for 10-15 minutes at a time.
- Do apply moist heat – a hot water bottle or a warm, moist towel can help to soothe tight jaw muscles that can be contributing to your jaw pain and discomfort.
- 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/chew foods like raw carrots, whole apples, corn on the cob, etc., opt for softer foods like cooked veggies, scrambled eggs, smoothies, etc. when your jaw is feeling sore. 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. Making a conscious effort to relax 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 before bedtime to learn how to better relax.
- 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 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 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.
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