Are you experiencing jaw pain?
If so, you are not alone. Between 5 - 12% of people in the United States experience jaw pain. Women are more effected than men with 9 women to 1 man experiencing pain and/or restricted jaw movement.
The anatomical term for the jaw is the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). The joint is made from the mandible (jaw bone) connecting to the skull.
It has two main supporting ligaments; the lateral ligament and the sphenomandibular ligament. The lateral ligament is responsible for keeping the lower jaw strong by preventing the posterior displacement of the mandible. The sphenomandibular ligament extends from the sphenoid bone of the skull to the ramus of the mandible. The sphenomandibular ligament is on the medial side (closer to the midline) of the temporomandibular joint.
Many muscles are acting on this joint. Some of the muscles involved in moving the jaw are the masseter, the medial and lateral pterygoid, digastric muscle, sternohyoid, geniohyoid, mylohyoid, buccinator, and the temporalis.
The movement of the jaw includes more than opening and closing. The jaw has six movements; elevation, depression, protraction, retraction, lateral excursion, and medial excursion. During chewing, the jaw is protracting (moving forward) and retracting (moving backward). When opening the mouth, our mandible depresses, and our mandible elevates when closing our mouth. The side to side movement of the mandible when grinding food between the molars is performed by lateral and medial excursions. The lateral excursion is the movement to the left and right of the zero position of the jaw. The medial excursion is the movement back to the zero position of the jaw (Saladin, pg. 291).
Pain can be a result of trauma causing dislocation or fracture. More commonly, many people may experience insidious jaw pain periodically throughout the day. It may also be followed by a clicking sound in their jaw when opening wide. This can occur with a displacement of the disk, or it can be a sign of a muscular imbalance.
If there is an imbalance between the muscle tone and activation from one side to another, the joints will not move smoothly and result in clicking of the joint. This can be brought on by teeth grinding, excessive chewing (think gum), or chewing of harder food.
Self treatment for TMJ pain can include eating softer foods, applying heat/ice to the area, being mindful of grinding/clenching. If self treatment isn't resolving your concerns, Chiropractors can perform an analysis of your jaw movement and help with your pain.
Soft tissue muscle release techniques can be extremely effective in treating TMD. As described above, often the pain and dysfunction is a result of a muscular imbalance. After adequately identifying which muscles are influencing the aberrant motion, we can help release some of the offending muscles. You may find that some of the muscles are extremely tender and very tight. These are signs that the muscles may require treatment. Mobilization of the jaw and upper cervical spine can also be helpful.
Saladin, K. S. (2012). Anatomy & physiology: the unity of form and function (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Pearson Education, HealthDent.com/tmj