Have you ever felt tightness or stiffness in your jaw? Or how about an ache that seems to radiate from your ears and across your cheeks or scalp? The cause of this TMJ pain—named for the temporomandibular jaw joint—can be a mystery.
In the past, orthodontic treatment was often the first line of treatment for anyone who experienced jaw pain. However, the medical community is split on whether a bad bite is the source of TMJ problems. Some sources say there is not enough scientific research to support the idea that misaligned teeth cause TMJ discomfort.
When most of us think of pain, we think the culprit is wherever the pain is located. If my jaw hurts, there must be a problem or abnormality with my TMJ joint or mouth. But remember that your bones and muscles all work together. The root of the problem may not be your jaw, but your posture.
TMJ jaw pain: Causes and symptoms
Before we do a deep dive into TMJ issues, let's address some symptoms that are harmless. It's considered normal to experience a painless "click" or a "pop" when you chew or yawn. However, if jaw movement brings on any pain or discomfort, you should take note.
A few of you out there already know the exact cause of your jaw pain. Perhaps you took an elbow to the face back in your soccer-playing days, or were in a car accident. Maybe you grind your teeth when you're stressed out or when you sleep. Or, you were diagnosed with TMJ osteoarthritis. But for many people, it seems like this intense pain and discomfort comes out of nowhere, with no obvious explanation.
In addition to localized pain right at the TMJ joint, you may also experience an ache that spreads throughout your neck and face. Your jaw may feel stiff or even lock in place at times. And when you go to eat a triple cheeseburger, is it just your imagination or is your jaw not opening quite like it used to?
Home remedies for TMJ jaw pain
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, approximately 11 to 12 million adults experience TMJ pain. It's difficult to eat, drink or even be happy if you have jaw issues. Luckily, there are simple home remedies that can provide some relief.
If your jaw hurts, save the peanut brittle, gum chewing, and steak for another day. Give your TMJ joint a break and reach for a high protein smoothie, a bowl of oatmeal, or some pureed/mashed foods. In addition to eating soft foods, you can also alternate applying heat and ice packs to the area. And if you need to, you can take ibuprofen. Massaging or even lightly rubbing your TMJ joint can feel good, too. You can do this yourself, or ask someone to pamper you.
These home remedies will reduce your pain temporarily. But don't be surprised if the pain returns, because you haven't addressed the actual cause of your TMJ pain. Before you stock up on baby food and OTC pain relievers, consider how your posture affects your jaw pain.
Is poor posture and muscle tension affecting your jaw pain?
Raise your hand if you spend several hours a day looking at a computer or other device, with your shoulders rounded and your neck bent forward. No judgment here, because digital devices are a fact of life these days. And, so are the tight muscles we get from using them.
This literal pain in the neck (and jaw) is affectionately known as "tech neck." And the cause is often tight muscles, which in turn lead to poor posture.
If you want good posture, you have to do more than walk around a room while balancing a book on your head. And yes, you can force your shoulders down and back, but the muscles won't stay that way if there is underlying tightness.
What does your posture have to do with your jaw?
Imagine for a minute that you've landed on an episode of The Magic School Bus. Today, Mrs. Frizzle will take you on a tour of someone's torso, neck, and jaw muscles. The first thing you'll notice is that these muscles are dependent on each other. If one muscle is tight, the muscles surrounding it are affected. For example, if your pec minor muscles are tight, your shoulders will pull forward. And that creates a chain of issues all the way up your body, with your jaw being the last link, so to speak. Even the TMJ Association recognizes that these issues are "a complex medical condition" and "more than just a jaw or dental problem."
You may find temporary relief through the home remedies we mentioned earlier. But the best way to undo those tight muscles is through prolonged pressure release.
Need a solution for TMJ jaw pain? Meet the NUCKLE
The NUCKLE tool was designed by a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience. It's your effective home remedy for TMJ jaw pain, no appointment needed. Unlike ice packs and massages, the NUCKLE eliminates the cause of your TMJ pain. This tool allows you to provide prolonged, direct pressure to your pec minor muscles, neck muscles, and upper trap muscles. Once the tension is released in these muscles, you’ll notice it’s much easier to stay in better posture. This can help to keep your jaw in better alignment and reduce pain.
You can also use the NUCKLE to apply direct pressure to your jaw muscles (refer to the video above). Just take it easy. You should experience a "hurts so good" sensation, not intolerable pain.
Many people believe that TMJ pain will go away on its own. We've got a different angle. We believe that you need to do more than treat symptoms. You need to get to the root cause of your TMJ pain. Engage in some self-care and align your posture today.