What causes TMJ disorder?
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) symptoms can be the result of trauma such as a car accident (whiplash for example), an injury to the joint, improper alignment of the jaw and teeth, overuse due to excessive or vigorous chewing, prolonged dental work, or the action of orthodontics. Habitual clenching or grinding of the teeth, especially while sleeping, can also cause or aggravate symptoms.
Besides pain and difficulty chewing, jaw symptoms can include decreased range of motion, locking, popping, clicking or sudden misalignment of the teeth. TMJ can lead to pain that radiates to the face, head, neck and shoulders. Some chronic sufferers experience headaches, dizziness, earaches and even difficulty hearing.
Chiropractic care for the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can ease pain by correcting the misalignment between the spine and nervous system. Chiropractic can be effective at reducing the pain associated with TMJ, either when used alone or as a complement to other treatments. Chiropractors relax the muscles, mobilize and/or adjust the joint and use specific muscle trigger points to accurately re-position the jaw. When done successfully, this will not only relieve pain in the short run, but it will help prevent TMJ pain from returning.
Chiropractic treatment of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) focuses on relieving tension in the muscles around the joints themselves – working both outside and inside the mouth, using massage and trigger point therapy. A trigger point is a very sensitive area made of muscle fibers. Trigger points feel like knots and may cause pain or even a twitching response when pressure is applied to them. A chiropractor can manipulate trigger points in such a way to alleviate the pain associated with them.
Trigger points common to TMJ include:
- Trapezius muscle, located at the base of the neck. Manipulating this trigger point can influence the areas behind the ear, at the temple and at the jaw bone.
- Sternocleidomastoid muscle, located along the neck from the collarbone to the ear. This trigger point can be used to relieve pain in the forehead, front of the jaw and around the eye socket.
- Masseter muscle, located at the back of the jaw. This refers to pain in the upper jaw, ear and above the eye.
- Lateral and Medial Pterygoid muscles, located behind the molars on the jaw. These trigger points influences pain, clicking and locking in the TMJ, as well as pain in the ear, nose, lower jaw, and the neck.
Adjustments to the joints can also be done by hand, using a technique that causes a tiny stretch inside the joint to release any fibrous attachments made by the body due to previous trauma. The chiropractor may also give you home exercises to help strengthen the joint and loosen the tight muscles.
In some cases, misalignment of the jaw and TMJ disorder can be due to improper posture or a back or neck problem. An approach to treating TMJ caused by misalignment in the neck and upper back is to perform chiropractic adjustments on the spinal joint in these areas. In addition, a chiropractor may use massage to relieve tight muscles in the back around the spine. This reduces the amount of stress put on the jaw so that other treatments to adjust the jaw will be more effective.
When these treatments are employed, motion of the jaw joint can improve and symptoms such as ear pain, jaw locking, headaches, and neck pain can be reduced.