One of my clients, Bonnie, a woman in her late fifties, was involved in an automobile accident and experienced whiplash. Shortly after that event, she started experiencing pain in her neck and jaw. Her medical doctor diagnosed it as an extreme case of temporomandibular joint pain.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “The temporomandibular (tem-puh-roe-man-dib-u-lur) joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw. TMJ disorders — a type of temporomandibular disorder or TMD — can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.” When the proper movement of the TMJ is disrupted, then inflammation is a likely outcome.
This type of injury can result from not only an automobile accident, but from a variety of causes, including grinding of the teeth, extensive dental work, falls, or any type of physical trauma to the head. It can also result from poor posture (especially forward head posture) or emotional factors such as pent up anger that gets expressed through the jaw. In some instances, if the person’s muscles and fascia connected to the joint are in a state of over- contraction (hyper toned), chewing on something hard can be enough to trigger TMJ discomfort.
TMJ syndrome is often accompanied by torques in the cranium itself. To a trained eye, where there are twists and contortions in the cranium, one side of the face will look larger than the other. TMJ affects men and women alike.
Most minor problems, whether muscular or within the joint, get better over time. For this reason, most experts agree not to rush into radical treatment involving surgery or injections, and that it’s best to use conservative treatment first.
Healthline™ reports that TMJ disorders may cause mild to debilitating symptoms, such as pain while chewing, pain in the ear, face, jaw, and neck, clicking, grating, or popping sounds in the jaw when opening or closing the mouth, and locking of the jaw. It can be experienced in part or all of the jaw. It can also be referred to the ears or show up in the form of a headache.
The jaw and the neck are terrible gossips, constantly sharing breaking bad news with each other. In Bonnie’s case, her neck was literally shouting to her jaw and formed a painful link. She immediately sought medical attention and was prescribed Ibuprofen to reduce the pain. She was also given a prescription by her doctor for physical therapy. After several weeks the pain, although reduced, still lingered. A visit to a massage therapist helped, but Bonnie was still experiencing a gnawing pain in her jaw and neck. Eating food was difficult. The continuing discomfort was making her miserable and I’m sure if you have ever suffered from TMD you know how it can drain your energy and impact your mood.
In more serious cases, approaches to treating TMJ varies and may include chiropractic, Cranial Sacral, acupuncture, massage, or Structural Integration (aka Rolfing). In Structural Integration (aka Rolfing), there is direct work that can be performed on the muscles and the fascia that control the movement of the jaw, including the opening and closing of the jaw and its movement from left to right. These include muscles on the outside of the cranium and jaw like the Masseter and Temporalis and the Lateral and medial Peterygoids, primarily accessed from the inside of the mouth.
Our approach was to have Bonnie go through the Ten Session protocol we use in Structural Integration (aka, Rolfing), which specifically addressed her whole body alignment and the hyper-toned fascia of her neck and jaw and the way these three components were interacting with each other. Once we accomplished this, her pain disappeared.
As mentioned earlier in this article, TMJ pain can also result from poor posture or emotional factors such as repressed anger that gets expressed through the jaw. When either of these two causes is the culprit, it is especially important to take a holistic approach when seeking a solution.
When you or a loved one experience TMJ, get the facts and then get the appropriate help.