TMJ is the name of your jaw joint, or Temporomandibular Joint. Under normal circumstances, these joints will cause no pain. However, during overuse or times of increased mental or physical stress, the muscles around the joint will become tense, tight, and painful, causing what is known as Atypical Facial Pain. Common causes include:
- Stress: Mental or physical stress will make you clench or tighten your neck and jaw muscles in your awake or sleeping hours.
- Dysfunctional oral habits: Clenching or grinding of your teeth during the night.
- Overuse of muscles: If you have the habit of constantly chewing on things (ie: gum, straws), you may be putting your jaw muscles through a marathon.
Often times, your symptoms will resolve on their own in several weeks to months. If you have recently experienced jaw pain and/or dysfunction, you may find relief with some or all of the following therapies.
- Moist Heat: A heat pack or a hot water bottle wrapped in a warm, moist towel can improve function and reduce pain. Be careful to avoid using excessive heat when a using heat.
- Ice: Ice packs can decrease inflammation and also numb pain. Do not place an ice pack directly on your skin. Keep the pack wrapped in a clean cloth while you are using it. Do not use an ice pack for more than 10 – 15 minutes.
- Soft Diet: Soft foods allow the jaw to rest temporarily. Even if you “chew on the other side,” you are still using both sides of the jaw muscles!
- Over-the-Counter Analgesics: Short-term use of over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, may provide temporary relief from jaw discomfort.
- Jaw Exercises: Small gentle jaw stretches may help increase jaw mobility and healing.
- Relaxation Techniques: Some have found yoga, massage, and meditation helpful in reducing stress and aiding relaxation.
- Side Sleeping: Sleep on your side using pillow support between shoulder and neck.
- Relax Facial Muscles: Make a concerted effort to relax your lips, and keep teeth apart. If you actively keep your tongue in-between your teeth, you will help keep your teeth apart!
- Yawning: Use your fist to support your chin as you yawn to prevent dislocation of your jaw joints.
Surgery cannot correct muscle pain and soreness. It’s up to you to take control!