Everyday Habits That May be Causing Your TMJ Dysfunction
Do you suffer from aching jaw pain? Does it click or pop when you open and close your mouth? Is chewing your food a constant struggle? It’s possible this pain is coming from your TMJ. TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint. The TMJ acts similar to a sliding hinge, and connects your lower jaw to your skull. TMJ dysfunction can create a countless number of symptoms, and pinpoint what is causing it can be difficult. TMJ symptoms can become excruciatingly painful, and can severely limit daily, social and work-related activities.
TMJ symptoms vary widely from patient to patient, which contributes to the difficulty of being able to treat the dysfunction. Most commonly, people will complain of pain in the jaw and neck, popping and clicking when opening and clothing your mouth, and pain when talking, singing, or chewing. Because the muscles that make up your TMJ are innervated by the trigeminal nerve, the nerve responsible for sensation in the face and motor functions such as biting and chewing, it can also cause sporadic eye twitching, painful temporalis headaches, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
What to Do If You Have TMJ Pain
If you’re beginning to notice this aching pain or any of the other reported symptoms, you should speak with your dentist immediately, as they can recommend or refer you to a physical therapist who is specialized in treating TMJ disorders. It’s important to recognize the symptoms. TMJ symptoms can be caused by many lifestyle behaviors, including:
- A history of grinding and clenching of the teeth. Unfortunately, many patients clench and/or grind their teeth subconsciously, both throughout the day and while they’re asleep at night. This can be an underlying symptom indicative of increased anxiety and stress, or it can be a behavior developed over time.
- Other oral habits, such as excessively chewing on gum or biting your nails. The constant overuse of these muscles over time can create micro-tears of the muscles and ligaments that make up the TMJ. Your food choices also affect your TMJ, so try to cut back on the tough steaks, hard nuts, and massive sandwich. Try opting for softer foods and smaller bites.
- Bad posture. Because the neck and jaw are connected, constantly practicing bad posture that can occur from looking down at your phone or sitting hunched over at a desk all day can cause a weight-shift in your jaw bone and mastication (chewing) muscles which can cause an imbalance and lead to increased joint compression.
In short, if you’re someone suffering with constant pain coming from your TMJ dysfunction or lower jaw area, you shouldn’t deem yourself “stuck with it.” There are things you can do, and lifestyle changes you can make, to help combat this issue. Contact your local physical therapist, or come see me and the rest of my staff at OC Sports & Rehab. We specialize in the treatment of TMJ dysfunction and can create an individualized treatment plan for you!
Cary Costa PT