Five Real-World Tips for TMJ Pain

Don’t let TMJ (temporomandibular joint) dysfunction hijack your life.  When it comes to managing chronic pain, small steps can make a big difference. 

Sometimes Less is More

If you’ve had temporomandibular disorder (TMD) for any length of time, you are probably willing to try almost anything that promises a better quality of life.  Keep in mind that an episode of worsening TMJ pain is often caused by inflammation around the joint itself.  Sometimes, a few simple changes are all it takes to reduce the inflammation and stop the pain for a while.

Have you Tried and Failed?

We’ve all seen TMD handouts telling patients to eat soft foods, to use ice packs, and to avoid extreme jaw movements.  These are well-intentioned ideas, but do they make sense in your daily life?  Do you keep an ice pack in the office?  Are you willing to subsist on a nursing home diet?  Can anyone really avoid yawning? 

TMJ Pain Relief for the Real World

Alexandra Ellis shows people with chronic pain how to find relief through straightforward, easy-to-use exercise programs.  An expert in helping clients live pain-free, she understands the importance of using methods that are effective and easy to follow, especially for painful conditions like TMD.  “Simple shifts in your posture and habits on a daily basis will go a long way towards alleviating the tension and pain associated with TMJ,” she advises.   With Alexandra’s help, along with some input from real TMD patients, we put together a list of five simple and effective ways to relieve TMJ pain.

Five Easy Ways to Relieve TMJ Pain Right Now:

1.     Give up the gum habit.

Some people with TMJ dysfunction believe their symptoms might actually improve if they chew gum; after all, if jaw muscles get tight and sore, they should be exercised, right?  Wrong.  Unless you have taken a vow of silence and never eat solid food, your jaw muscles are getting enough of a work out already.  If you absolutely must chew gum, be sure to chew for no more than three minutes before tossing it.

2.     Try a quick and easy DIY massage.

Gently massaging the masseter—the powerful muscle that opens and closes your jaw--can relieve jaw tension and muscle pain.  You may find it simpler to employ a set of therapy balls to do this massage.  (Click here for a video tutorial.)  This gentle technique is easy to learn and reduces muscle tension.  It can improve chronic pain from conditions like TMD.

3.     Fight pain with acupressure.

Acupressure is a great way to help relieve TMD pain.   Acupressure uses the same body points as acupuncture to activate the healing process.  While acupuncture activates these points more strongly, you can try acupressure on your own.  There are a host of online resources for finding acupuncture points. You may be surprised to discover that some of your most effective points for TMJ relief are nowhere near your jaw.

4.     Relax your jaw.

Are you clenching right now?  Whenever you notice tightness or pain, try to lower your jaw very slightly until your teeth stop touching.  This is easily done with your mouth closed, so no one will notice.  If your tongue is pressing upward on the roof of your mouth, this is the time to let it drop back down.  The goal is to keep your teeth from touching, and to keep your jaw relaxed, for most of the day.  With practice, you may be able to drastically reduce TMJ pain caused by clenching.

5.     Check your posture.

Is your head on straight?  If you’re not sure, have someone take a picture of you from the side while you sit or stand as upright as possible.  If your ear is not in line with your shoulder, you may suffer from forward head posture.   Along with the spinal misalignment mentioned here, forward head posture can contribute to TMJ pain.  To help correct your posture, try this simple exercise: lie down on the floor—or stand tight against a wall--and tuck your chin to your chest as if you are trying to make a double chin.  Repeat.  This exercise strengthens the muscles in your neck and can help relieve TMD pain. (Click here for more information.)

It’s Only Temporary

These tips are great for relieving TMJ pain in the short term.  If you have been suffering from TMJ dysfunction for a while, it may be time to consider a different approach to find the source of your chronic pain.  “Your jaw doesn’t live in a vacuum,” Alexandra insists.  “More often than not, its dysfunction is a manifestation of dysfunction in other areas of the body.”

 At Vital Head and Spinal Care, we use NUCCA--a gentle, evidence-based chiropractic treatment—to restore the body’s normal function.  NUCCA adjustments are proven to benefit TMD patients and do not include forceful twisting, popping, or crunching.   To learn more, please contact Vital Head and Spinal Care today.