Temporomandibular joint disease, commonly referred to as TMJ, is a disorder that affects the connective joint at the jawline. TMJ is generally caused by grinding your teeth or as result of arthritis or a jaw injury. TMJ often causes severe pain and stiffness in the jaw. With moderate treatment and physical therapy, the severity of TMJ symptoms can be decreased.
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In addition to pain, if left untreated, TMJ can cause the jaw to lock, making it difficult to open and close the mouth. In addition, it can affect the alignment of your jaw, causing an uneven bite.
TMJ is typically treated with a combination of medications for pain symptoms. Pain can generally be treated with over-the-counter medications. However, if your pain become elevated, your doctor can prescribe a prescription pain medication. Patients with severe cases of TMJ may also take a muscle relaxer, to help loosen the jaw muscles and prevent locking or labored movement.
In addition, your physician may recommend that you participate in physical therapy to strengthen the jaw muscles and increase flexibility in the temporomandibular joint. Exercises such as the "max opening" are commonly recommended for TMJ patients. To perform this exercise, open your mouth as wide as you can. Place your hand on your chin and gently push to increase the opening. Hold for up to 30 seconds and release. You may feel a slight pull, however you should not feel pain. If you do, release the stretch and rest your jaw. The max opening should be repeated up to four times per day, every day.
You can also try the "lateral movement" exercise. For the left lateral movement, start by sliding your jaw to the left as far as you can. Place your right hand on the right side of your face and gently push the jaw to the left for an additional stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and release. You should feel a stretch or pull, but you shouldn’t experience pain. Then, perform a right lateral stretch, sliding and gently pushing your jaw to the right. Repeat movement on each side four times, up to four times per day.
Supplement your treatment with some self-care. Lightly massage your jaw throughout the day, to prevent it from becoming stiff. Massaging your jaw serves two purposes; it is therapeutic for the jaw joints and muscles, yet also relaxing for you. Use your fingertips to massage the area in front of and below your ears in a circular motion to loosen the muscles. Applying warm compresses can also help to relieve discomfort.
MayoClinic.com indicates that some patients develop TMJ symptoms as a result of stress. In times of stress, they may clench their jaws or grind their teeth. Managing your stress and ending these bad habits can help to prevent the development of TMJ as well as help to reduce the severity of your symptoms.