TMJ problems

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders

These occur as a result of problems with one or both jaw joints and surrounding facial muscles that control chewing and moving the jaw. Causes include injury to the jaw joint, grinding or clenching the teeth, dislocation of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket, and osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the temporomandibular joint. Symptoms include tenderness or pain in the face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders, a clicking sound in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth, headaches, toothache, neckache, and tinnitus.

Treatment may include wearing a mouth guard at night and using muscle relaxants.

How may osteopathy help someone with TMJ pain?

Sarah had had pain ‘in her ear’ for a number of months. She had seen her doctor and an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who had tried various drugs and nasal sprays to clear the ear infection and congestion. However the pain remained. When assessed by an osteopath at Lincoln Osteopaths, there was significant tenderness around the TMJ and discomfort on full range of jaw movements suggesting a local mechanical problem. A series of 4 treatments and prescribed exercises led to almost complete pain relief.

Paul had pain up the right side of his face and head, which was first put down to a neck problem, but when the jaw was assessed it was apparent that the cause was the TMJ. Treatment to this also led to pain relief.

When there is a problem in any joint or muscle, messages will be transmitted to the brain reporting the problem. The unconscious brain often responds by causing an increase in muscle tension in the disturbed area in an attempt to minimise further harm. This may occur around the temporomandibular joint, affecting muscles involved in jaw movement, and osteopathic treatment is therefore directed towards the muscles involved, with the intention of helping them to relax, and allowing the affected muscle or joint to function more normally, which then allows the pain to reduce. As the muscles relax, treatment to gently stretch and ease the joint can also encourage more comfortable movement.

The possible types of jaw movement are both complex and varied, allowing us to speak, bite, chew and grind food. The muscles around the jaw are very powerful, allowing those who would choose to do so even to hold their body weight by biting onto something! Stress can create persistent tightness around the jaw, sometimes leading to a nagging ache either in the muscles or in the joint itself. Although there may be wear and tear or degeneration in the joint, sometimes symptoms can be alleviated, by improving the function of the muscles around the joint.

On rare occasions the jaw joint appears to lock. This may be due to a damaged ‘disc’ (soft cushion) that may prevent movement, and it may even become folded when damaged. Treatment to relax the muscles may allow enough movement to enable manipulation of the joint, and thus the disc to move enough to allow more normal movement.