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Is your jaw clicking, popping, grinding, clenching or locking? These all could be symptoms of temporomandibular disorder (jaw pain). Pain in and around the jaw can make everyday activities like eating or talking debilitating. This insight will discuss what causes jaw pain, the important role of chiropractic, and what you can do to help yourself.

 

Where is the pain coming from?

 

The first step to relieving jaw pain is to figure out where the pain is originating from.  The jaw is a complex joint with lots of muscles and ligaments surrounding it. It needs to be able to move and glide smoothly so we can open our mouth, chew and talk.

 

The main condition that we see as the cause of jaw pain is called Temporomandibular (TMJ) dysfunction. This means there’s an issue within the joint itself (labelled articular disc on the diagram). Sometimes the disc can become stuck or doesn’t move smoothy which can give the sensation of clicking or popping when you open your mouth. TMJ dysfunction can also be due to irritation of the surrounding muscles. They become tight and overworked, leading to a dull aching pain.

 

It’s important to note that pain may not be coming directly from the jaw. Injury to the cervical (neck) joints and muscles or different types of headaches can also cause referred pain over the jaw area. It is important to distinguish between these different causes and treat appropriately.

 

Is a chiropractor the right person to see if I have jaw pain?

 

Yes we are! As we just covered above, there’s lot of potential causes of jaw pain, all of which we can help with. If you suffer from jaw pain, you’ll probably find that it’s not just the jaw that’s painful… it’s very common for these causes to come along with each other. For example, when you have a tight neck and shoulders, it can cause tension headaches that wrap around your head. All this added tension, and stress that comes along with it causes us to clench and tighten our jaws!

 

This is exactly why chiropractic care is a good idea when you’re experiencing jaw pain. But of course, there are also other causes that we can’t help with, like dental issues that may need further assessment or treatment. So, your chiropractor can help figure out if you need to see someone else, like a dentist or orthodontist.

 

What can the chiropractor do to help?

 

The goal of treatment is to restore the normal movement of the jaw, and reduce muscle tension around the jaw, head and neck, and to empower you to a more active lifestyle to help prevent future pain. We can use lots of treatment options to achieve this, like soft tissue massage, dry needling, and gentle mobilisations. These treatments have been shown to be effective in reducing pain and improving mouth opening when applied to the jaw (1) and to the neck (2).

 

What can I do to help it?

 

Jaw pain can be very frustrating to manage, mostly because it’s hard to completely rest your jaw! But there’s lots of things you can do by yourself to help.

 

Body scanning and relaxation technique

 

Take a second right now while you’re reading this to relax your jaw… notice how much tension you’re holding on to? Becoming more aware of where you are holding tension in your body can be a great strategy for reducing jaw pain. Start by sitting up tall, take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and out your mouth. Close your mouth and push your tongue firmly against the roof of your mouth. Relax your tongue. Clench your jaw muscles tightly, holding for a few seconds, then relax. Slowly repeat this process 2-3 times.

 

Self-jaw massage

 

This is a simple and effective way to reduce muscle tension when your pain flares up. Use the muscles on the diagram above to guide where you should massage. Start by putting your first two fingers on your temple area, this is where the temporalis muscle is. Make small circular movements while slowly increasing the pressure, being mindful not to press too hard. You can then come down around your cheeks where the pterygoid and masseter muscles are. To make the massage more intense you can slowly open and close your mouth while pressing onto the muscles.

 

Choose softer foods

 

When you’re jaw pain is flared up, it’s best to avoid hard or chewy foods that involve excessive mouth opening such as apples, hard lollies or tough meat.

 

Gentle stretching

 

Start with your mouth slightly open and move your jaw left, right and down. You can then start to add some gentle pressure with your hand to increase the stretch in each direction.

 

About the authors

 

David-ChiroDavid McNaughton is a clinician, researcher and lecturer. He is the director and principal chiropractor at DMC Health & Wellness. He has an extensive background in the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. In addition to his clinical studies, David holds a Master’s of Research and PhD in Psychology. He regularly publishes his research in peer reviewed medical and psychology journals. David has taught both undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Chiropractic and Psychology.

 

Isaac-Searant-DMC-Chiro

Isaac Searant completed a Bachelor of Chiropractic Science, Master of Chiropractic and Master of Research at Macquarie University. His research aims to understand the clinical decisions health practitioners make about diagnostic imaging. His clinical interests include spinal pain (neck and back) and sporting injuries. Regardless of the condition, his goal as a chiropractor is to work collaboratively with patients.

 

References

 

  1. Martins WR, Blasczyk JC, de Oliveira MA, Gonçalves KF, Bonini-Rocha AC, Dugailly PM, de Oliveira RJ. Efficacy of musculoskeletal manual approach in the treatment of temporomandibular joint disorder: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Manual therapy. 2016 Feb 1;21:10-7.
  2. La Touche R, Martínez García S, Serrano García B, Proy Acosta A, Adraos Juárez D, Fernández Pérez JJ, Angulo-Díaz-Parreño S, Cuenca-Martínez F, Paris-Alemany A, Suso-Martí L. Effect of manual therapy and therapeutic exercise applied to the cervical region on pain and pressure pain sensitivity in patients with temporomandibular disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain Medicine. 2020 Oct;21(10):2373-84.
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