Jaw Pain/TMJ and Chiropractic
Of the many conditions not often associated with chiropractic care, Jaw Pain or TMJD (aka Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorder/Syndrome) is definitely one of the most interesting. Most people refer to these symptoms as TMJ, but that’s the abbreviation for the actual joint itself, and not the medical condition. Lets take a look at what TMJD is and how chiropractic can help!
Signs & Symptoms
TMJD is fairly common with and estimated 5-10% of the population experiencing symptoms at some point. Most often, this condition is found in younger female patients, though it is not exclusive to any sex or age. In our office we see men and women of all ages with TMJD-like issues.
The most common signs of TMJD are:
Popping/clicking in the jaw
“Tightness” of the muscles in the face
These symptoms may be present consistently or they may come and go based on the individuals activity levels, stress, physical fatigue, etc. Some other conditions that you may not associate with the jaw are upper neck tightness, migraines, tension headaches, and even earaches.
Diagnosis of TMJD is done primarily by identifying the patients symptoms, though your chiropractor (or other medical provider) will likely assess the motion of your jaw through visible and physical exam, as well as assessment of the surrounding muscular and soft tissue structures. In severe cases, advanced imaging such as MRI or CT Scans may be useful to identify any underlying structural issue that may be causing the TMJD.
While most patients present with mild-to-moderate symptoms, some cases, especially those with structural defects, may be referred directly to a TMJ specialist for more invasive or surgical intervention.
As a quick reminder, we’re focusing here on the types of treatment we would do in our Chiropractic office, as well as what you can do at home. Medical TMJ centers will often have additional treatments such as mouth guards, injections, surgical procedures, etc.
The first area of focus for us is the upper cervical spine. You may say “But why mess with my neck when the problem is in my jaw?” The answer to that is found in your anatomy. Your jaw and all its muscles are controlled by the Facial Nerve. This nerve can be tracked all the way back to the brainstem which is located in your upper cervical spine. Structural, postural, or mechanical dysfunction in the upper cervical area can negatively stress the brainstem and cranial nerves. Additionally, the muscles of the jaw and face are closely related to the upper cervical spine and often, the symptoms of TMJD are due to restriction in those muscles. Essentially, if we can take the “tension” out of your neck, we can often take some of the physical stress off your jaw.
The next step is addressing the actual joint itself. Chiropractors use very gentle adjusting techniques to mobilize the temporomandibular joint. Doing so can potentially allow for smoother and freer range of motion.
Finally, we can treat the soft tissue using Low Level Laser Therapy. Infrared laser helps to combat inflammation, heal damaged tissues, and calm irritation. Multiple scientific studies show significant positive improvement with TMJD symptoms after a series of laser treatments.