Osteopathy for Jaw Pain and TMJ Dysfunction
The letters TMJ stand for temporo-mandibular joint. This is the joint between your upper and lower jaws. You can feel it moving just in front of your ears when you open and close your mouth. If you have pain in or near your TMJ (ie at the side of your face), you may have what is known as “TMJ dysfunction.” TMJ problems can be very debilitating, because they affect eating, drinking and talking.
How Will I Know if I Have a Problem With My TMJ?
The dysfunction may be due to malocclusion, where your teeth do not meet properly when you close your mouth. Alternatively the dysfunction may be caused by clenching or grinding your teeth. In some people, TMJ dysfunction is due to postural problems, which affect the position of your lower jaw. Whatever the cause, there is likely to be an imbalance between the various muscles that control the TMJ. If left untreated, the imbalance in these muscles makes the joint more vulnerable to arthritic changes.
If you have TMJ dysfunction, you may feel pain in the joint itself or the side of your face; your jaw may click when you open and close your mouth, you may have difficulty chewing and swallowing, and even drinking may be painful.
However TMJ problems do not always manifest as jaw pain, and other common symptoms include:
- Tenderness in the jaws
- Neck or shoulder pain
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Fullness in the sinuses
- Pain around or behind the eyes
A simple test can help to show you whether you have a TMJ dysfunction. Extend three fingers side-by-side and try to place them in your mouth, with the first finger against your lower teeth and the third finger against your top teeth. If you cannot open your mouth wide enough to accommodate three fingers then you have a TMJ dysfunction.
If you have malocclusion, you may find that your teeth are tender. Tender teeth can also result from grinding your teeth, which in turn can cause TMJ dysfunction.
What Can I Do?
Applying ice to the painful area can help to reduce pain and swelling, while heat may help to relax the muscles. It is best to avoid caffeine (tea, coffee, Red Bull and cola drinks) to give your muscles more of a chance to relax.
If you are in a lot of pain, you can alleviate it temporarily by taking pain-killers such as paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory (aspirin or ibuprofen) and by resting the joint (sticking to a liquid diet). But remember pain-killers and anti-inflammatories are only a temporary solution and do not address the cause of the problem.
What Treatment Do I Need?
The treatment for TMJ dysfunction depends on the cause of the problem. If it is due to postural or muscular problems, osteopathic treatment is the best solution. However if it is caused by dental malocclusion, you may need some dental work or you may need a referral to an orthodontist for correction of your bite.
If your TMJ problem is stress-related, relaxation and stress management may help to alleviate it. This is likely to be the case if you clench or grind your teeth. Whatever the cause of your problem, there is likely to be spasm in the muscles of your jaw and osteopathic treatment will help to relax the spasm.
Osteopathic Treatment for TMJD
While your dentist or orthodontist can help with malocclusion, osteopathic treatment will relieve the spasm in the muscles of the jaw and restore the mobility of the joint. This will enable you to resume normal eating, drinking and talking. Osteopathic treatment will include gentle massage and stretching of the muscles of the jaw, and work on your posture and the muscles and joints of your neck and back.