TMJ Disorder – How osteopathy can help your jaw pain

For the past few years I have noticed more clients dealing with increased stress. Interestingly this has correlated with a rise of people suffering with jaw pain, also known as TMJ disorder. It is a condition I really like treating. Here I will explain what TMJ is, what symptoms to look out for and how osteopathy can help you.

What is the TMJ?

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. TMJ disorder is when the joint itself or the muscles that help chewing are affected, which can cause pain or difficulty when opening or closing the jaw. There is also a nerve very close to the TMJ called the trigeminal nerve, which when aggravated can lead to facial pain.

Anatomical picture of a skull, highlighting the temporomandibular joint, also known as TMJ.
Location of the TMJ. Credit: Image by kjpargeter on Freepik

What is the cause of TMJ disorders?

It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of TMJ disorders in each person, and can be due to a combination of these factors:

  • Bruxism and stress: This is when a person excessively grinds or clenches their teeth. We may do this because we are stressed, or can be habitual.
  • Arthritis in the TMJ
  • Improper bite (e.g. over-bite or under-bite)
  • Injury
  • Dislocation of the TMJ

Around 1 in 10 people in the UK have a jaw problem. TMJ disorders can affect anyone at any age, but it most commonly affects people between 20-40 years old, and women more than men.

What are the signs and symptoms of TMJ disorder?

You may experience any combination of the following:

  • Pain in or around your jaw
  • Clicking, popping or grinding of the jaw
  • Headaches
  • Pain referred into your ear, face, neck or shoulders
  • Pain or difficulty chewing – occasionally the jaw may lock
  • Your bite might feel ‘misaligned’

If you have developed jaw pain it is a good idea to have a check-up with your dentist to rule out a dental cause e.g. cracked tooth affecting your bite. Once a dental cause is ruled out, I would recommend seeking osteopathy treatment if your jaw is painful or having an impact on your daily life, such as eating.

An osteopath treating a woman's upper cervical spine.
The upper neck is a common area of pain caused from the TMJ. Osteopaths often treat the neck to help your jaw pain.

How can osteopathy help my jaw?

I said earlier how I enjoy treating TMJ disorder, the reason being is how the jaw has close connections to the neck. Around 70% of the time TMJ disorder and neck pain co-exist together. Therefore to get the best outcome I will work both directly and indirectly to help your jaw. Treatment can include (but not limited to) any combination of the following:

Direct treatment on TMJ:
  • Advanced massage technique to the jaw muscles
  • Improve joint movement of the TMJ 
  • Galbreath maneuvre – a technique that improves the drainage of the eustachian tube (which is very close to the TMJ), which can help ear and sinus pain.
Indirect treatment:
  • Improving joint movement in the neck, shoulders, and mid-back
  • Working on tight muscles and trigger points (muscle knots) that are referring pain into your jaw and/or head.
  • Releasing pressure on your sinuses
  • Relaxing any tight muscles around your hyoid bone (front of the neck) – the muscles here connect up to the jaw and down to the collar bone and shoulder blade. They help with chewing and swallowing.
Rehab exercises:
  • Go through self-massage techniques for the jaw
  • Provide jaw strengthening and stretching exercises
  • Give exercises to help neck, shoulders and back (a combination of stretch, strengthen and postural exercises)
  • Stress management advice.
  • General self-care advice

How can I help myself in the meantime?

Whilst you are waiting for your appointment here are some tips to try and help manage your pain:

  • Eat softer foods
  • Try smaller bites
  • Try a hot or cold compress for 15 mins (whichever is more comfortable for you, just make sure you have a cover on heat/ice pack)
  • Minimise wide jaw movements such as yawning.
  • Reduce stress and try and do an activity that relaxes you.

What do I do next? 

If you or someone you know has jaw pain and you would like to know more about how osteopathy can help you please get in touch by calling 07757 955097 or use the contact form. Alternatively if you are ready to book an appointment you can book online.

PS: Have you read my last blog about sciatica?

Published 10/02/2023