The TMJ (Temporomandibular joint) is the most used joint in the body. It affects your ability to talk, chew and swallow. The TMJ attaches the lower jaw to the skull. It is responsible for the movement of the jaw and the opening and closing of the mouth. An Osteopath knows the construction of the jaw and can help address the symptoms of TMJ. They would assess and treat movement restrictions of the jaw and the function of the surrounding muscles. You would then be taught exercises and stretches to relax the jaw.
Signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders may include:
- Neck pain and/ or stiffness
- Shoulder pain
- Ear aches or fullness in your ear
- Jaw pain or tenderness (mostly in the morning)
- Jaw locking at times
- Clicking or popping of the jaw when you open or close your mouth
- Pain in the jaw area (directly in front of the ears) when opening or closing your mouth
- Pain when yawning, biting, or chewing
Causes of TMJ are:
- Grinding and/ or clenching in your sleep
- Malocclusion Syndrome (bad bite)
- Damage to teeth causing tooth loss
- Hard chewing
- A blow to the jaw from sports or other accidents
- Motor vehicle accident injuries
- Poor posture and body mechanics
- Overuse of the jaw such as gum chewing, biting nails, thrusting the jaw forward during talking or exercising
Most develop over time with the onset of symptoms.
When you decide that you would like to see an osteopath, they will evaluate and treat your symptoms and condition as a whole. That means, their may be imbalances to the body that may be playing a role and that is causing you pain.
During an observation, you will stand so that the osteopath can do a postural assessment, which will include observing the head, neck, and spine relations, as well as the position of the TMJ in relation to the skull, anterior and posterior cervical soft tissues and shoulder girdles.
Specific assessment and treatment to the neck, jaw and cranio-facial bones will follow. This involves techniques for the soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments and fascia, as well as specific techniques to release the tensions at the articulations of the neck, cranial and facial bones, as well as the temporo-mandibular joints. This may involve the practitioner doing gentle stretches and manipulations inside of the mouth to reach deeper structures. Techniques that temporarily “gap” or separate the two joint surfaces between the condyle of the mandible and the base of the skull. This gapping allows the joint to reset itself comfortably and also may include some movement that may have been lost due to excess tension on the restricted side.
Self-management tools to help release the tension from the jaw and that may relieve pain are:
- Heat- as it will relax the muscles
- Self-massage and stretching- for the jaw, head, neck and back- such as yoga or meditation
- Night guard, mouth guard or splint
- Avoid sticky foods- such as gum and candy
- Avoid hard foods- like ice and chips