Jaw Pain and Chiropractic Care
60-70% of the population experiences jaw pain or clicking (or other symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder), but did you know that Chiropractors can offer a non-invasive treatment to help reduce some of these symptoms?
Before I get to explaining how chiropractic care can help, I would like to introduce you to the anatomy of the joint to help you visualize what can cause jaw pain or clicking.
The image above shows a nice depiction of the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)- aka the 'jaw joint', and the primary muscles around it that allow you to open and close your jaw. In addition to these muscles moving your jaw up and down, some also move your jaw side to side and forwards and backwards- so it's no wonder these are some of the busiest muscles in your body! Inside the TMJ is also a cartilage disc, that essentially acts as a shock absorber to the joint. One of the muscles of the jaw acts to pull this disc forward to ensure smooth jaw opening, and another pulls the disc backwards to ensure smooth jaw opening.
As you may have already figured out, the main function of the TMJ is to allow the jaw to open and close. But, for smooth movement of the jaw during opening, we need the joint to rotate first, and then glide forward. For smooth movement of the jaw while closing, we need the jaw to first glide backward, then rotate.
Because we use our jaw very often (talking, chewing, swallowing, yawning, kissing, etc), it is no wonder these small muscles can get overworked. And, when they are overworked the muscles surrounding the TMJ can start to work in a pattern that is opposite of what we would expect. This mis-firing of the muscles around the jaw can then lead to an abnormal pattern of movement at the TMJ. Remember that disc in the TMJ that I mentioned earlier? When the muscles are firing in an inappropriate sequence the disc can be pulled forward too early, or not pulled forward enough- and this is partly what can create jaw clicking.
Jaw clicking that is 'soft' in nature is often attributed to the tight musculature around the TMJ, while grinding or creaking (think of a sound like footsteps in gravel) can be attributed to arthritic changes in the TMJ.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)
Limited Jaw opening (typically we can open our jaw as wide as 3 knuckles)
The above are common symptoms of TMD. Posture of the neck and spine can also play a significant role in Jaw Pain, as a forward head posture can place increased pressure on the upper part of the neck. Interestingly, the cervical spine (neck) has intricate connections with the TMJ, so if the very top part of your cervical spine isn't moving quite the way it should, it can put extra stress onto your TMJ, potentially causing some of these symptoms. Interestingly enough, stomach sleepers are commonly afflicted with TMD because of the strain it puts on the joints in the upper neck.
Chiropractic Care for TMD
While the TMJ or Jaw isn't what you would typically associate with a joint that chiropractors treat, it is one that can resolve well following chiropractic care if the primary issue seems to be tight musculature and restricted movement in the TMJ. Chiropractic care for TMD can include adjusting the TMJ and cervical spine (either manually or using an Activator) to increase motion in the affected joint, and Active Release Technique (ART) to loosen tight musculature around the jaw to facilitate proper function and motion through the jaw.
Often after treatment patients report their jaw is moving better, with less clicking than originally experienced prior to treatment.
Of course, consultation with your chiropractor or health care provider is recommended to determine if you are a good candidate for chiropractic management of your jaw pain.
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Skaggs C. TMJ dysfunction. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy 1997;1(4):198-214.
Clicking Jaw- Addressing TMJ. (2015). Massage & Bodywork,January/February 2015, 99-101.