Did you know that jaw pain is the second most common reason patients seek physio and massage therapy after back pain?
The condition can be incredibly uncomfortable, often involving postural imbalances and physical and emotional unrest. However, there are methods to help rectify this pain and set you back on the right track.
Understanding the cause
Jaw pain is a complex condition, with most cases being unique to the individual. This personalization means that professionals should customize the treatment plan to the particular patient, their needs and their lifestyle.
The condition is more formally known as temporomandibular joint dysfunction or TMJD. The temporomandibular joints are located on either side of the head in front of the ears. They act as a sliding hinge to connect the jawbone to the skull and are the joints we absentmindedly use to talk, chew, and yawn.
However, while we may not notice them on a daily basis, it’s definitely noticeable when something is wrong.
While determining the precise cause of TMJD can be difficult unless there has been an obvious jaw injury, the pain is often attributed to factors such as genetics, arthritis, teeth grinding and clenching, muscle imbalances, stress, postural imbalances, or myofascial adhesions.
Luckily, most pain from TMJD disorders is temporary, and patients can seek relief through a wide range of treatments, with only the more severe cases requiring surgical intervention.
Common symptoms of TMJD include:
- Ear pain
- Jaw pain
- Shoulder/neck pain
- Chewing pain
- Hearing problems
- Jaw clicking, popping, or grinding sounds
Depending on which or how many symptoms you have, treatment avenues may vary, which is why the first step is to visit a professional to conduct an assessment.
Orthopaedics is a broad category of medicine that extends to acute, chronic, traumatic, and overuse injuries to do with the musculoskeletal system. The TMJ is just as susceptible to damage as any other joint.
The first step of treating TMJD is to conduct a comprehensive assessment, often comprising three to eight treatments, to attempt to re-pattern the dysfunction. Of course, the treatment will be built around the individual patient’s condition and severity, meaning that the treatment goals and criteria will be unique to them.
Treatments are usually 30 to 45 minutes in length, with the registered massage therapist conducting intra-oral (within the mouth) work, as well as treating muscles and fascia in the back, shoulders, neck, head and face. This approach is because many patients have postural imbalances that can either be the primary cause of TMJD or an exacerbating factor.
It is important to note, as with other variations of physical or massage therapy, that there may be some temporary discomfort as the therapist releases trigger points and fascial adhesions. That said, the therapist will always work within your comfort level and individual tolerance.
These treatment sessions seek to relieve and remove inflammation around the jaw, which should help alleviate some, if not all, of the pain. Patience can also pair this treatment approach with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to ease the pain and apply heat and ice interchangeably to the problem area.