Millions of people are affected by temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ every year.
In fact, it is estimated around 20 – 30% of people are affected by TMJ to some degree each year.
This more often affects women than men, and those in the 20 - 40 year age group are more at risk.
UPDATE: For detailed information and practical steps to help you beat TMJ disorder naturally, take a look at TMJ No More.
Often no precise cause can be identified but contributing factors can include joint damage due to joint degeneration, trauma or jaw dislocation, misalignment of the joint, teeth grinding, and stress.
Hormones and genetics may even play a role.
The difficult symptoms of TMJ include pain when talking and eating, headaches, pain in the jaw or teeth, eye pain, decreased jaw movement, swelling, and a grating feeling or sound when opening the jaw.
Many of these symptoms are caused by inflammation within the joint which leads to pain and swelling.
It can cause redness and hotness near the joint.
If there is joint damage in the temporomandibular joint, the jaw may lock or ‘catch’ and there may be a grating feeling within the joint.
Like many things, stress can contribute to an overall worsening of the symptoms by leading to more teeth grinding, muscle tension and intensified anxiety.
Many sufferers turn to powerful anti-inflammatory medications or TMJ muscle relaxants in desperation to get quick relief for their symptoms. However some of these particular drugs can often be expensive and bring a range of unwanted side effects, with stomach irritation and drowsiness being on the more minor end of the scale.
So, in today's list, we're going to provide you with some effective, no-drug solutions for TMJ relief.
It's always ideal to seek comfort and pain relief without harmful medication.
TMJ heat and cold pack application
As we mentioned above, the disease process that occurs within the temporomandibular joint in TMJ involves a lot of inflammation.
This inflammation brings with it pain, swelling, redness and heat.
If you are in the acute stage of dysfunction with TMJ where this inflammation response is occurring, your best benefits will come from applying a cold pack to the area.
Particularly if you feel heat around the joint.
High quality gel cold packs are best because they maintain the correct cool temperature when applied to skin.
But it's important to note that ice and other frozen products can be used, as long as you ensure that they are wrapped with a towel before applying to skin.
Cold packs can help to reduce inflammation, numbing pain and reduce swelling which allows the healing process to begin.
Apply the cold pack for no more than 10-15 minutes at a time.
After giving it a rest you can repeat the application multiple times through the day for relief as needed.
If your jaw is more stiff and stuck instead of inflamed, and there is definitely no hotness or inflammation coming from the joint, you can apply a moist warm heat pack such as a hot water bottle or warm wheat bag.
Always be careful of the temperature and once again always wrap in a towel to prevent burning.
Moist heat applied to the joint can help ease aches and pains and get the blood flowing in stiff and functionless joints. Increased blood flow helps bring healing factors and cells to the joint, allowing a faster recovery for you.
Again, only apply the heat pack for 10-15 minutes or until some relief is felt.
You can actually combine cold and hot therapy by applying a cold pack first for about 10 minutes, and then applying a warm heat pack for 5 minutes at the end.
This approach is useful for painful and stiff joints to reduce inflammation and rejuvenate muscle function in the jaw.
TMJ relaxation techniques
When you’re really suffering with TMJ pain, it’s hard to think of trying to relax.
But this can be one of the most effective treatments you try.
The fact is that stress and emotional upset have been linked to both the cause and the aggravation of TMJ symptoms.
Techniques for TMJ relaxation and stress relief have been found to have a strong positive effect on self-treatment of pain felt in TMJ.
Stress, depression, anxiety and anger can worsen pain by sensitizing nerves in various parts of the body to detect pain more easily, causing muscle tightness and tension, which in turn can promote more pain.
This can develop into what is known as the vicious "anxiety-pain-tension" cycle.
In a study that investigated the effect of using relaxation techniques to manage TMJ pain, they found that progressive muscular relaxation exercises effectively reduced pain and improved the range of motion in the jaw joint.
Relaxation exercises were even helpful in cases where there was an imbalance on each side of the jaw, where the exercises helped to correct this imbalance.
The muscle relaxation technique used was similar to progressive muscular relaxation, when one visualises the various parts of the body relaxing from the toes to the head, or for a greater effect, each muscle can be briefly contracted and then released to provide a relaxing, loosening effect throughout the body.
Physiotherapy and Massage for TMJ
Joint stiffness, along with muscle tightness and tension are huge contributing factors to the pain and disability associated with TMJ.
Physiotherapy can help to quickly loosen locked up joints and create improved mobility with a variety of professional techniques.
Physiotherapists can offer a range of fantastic services for sufferers of TMJ including hands on massage and treatment, as well as having professional equipment such as TENS machines on hand to help relieve pain more effectively.
A good masseuse or physiotherapist can also teach you at home techniques and exercises that you can use at anytime wherever pain strikes to help loosen muscles and unlock joints at home and keep the joint functioning well.
TMJ No More teaches some great techniques as well.
It’s important to choose a masseuse or physiotherapist who has good knowledge and experience in dealing with TMJ as certain types of massage can worsen the pain or headaches associated with TMJ.
Rest to relieve TMJ
It may be the hardest thing to do when you’re suffering with TMJ pain and running a busy life.
One of the most important and effective ways to relieve the pain and tension of TMJ is to simply have some rest. Many TMJ books have been written on this.
Even daily activities that are considered normal for most people including chewing, talking, yawning and coughing can exacerbate the pain and irritation of TMJ.
Although many TMJ sufferers might prefer to just pop a pill and ‘power on’, this is neglecting the body’s need to rest, recover and heal.
Enlist the help of family and friends to allow you to rest your jaw by abstaining from excess talking or chewing.
When you’re experiencing bad jaw pain it’s a good idea to only choose soft foods and liquids to avoid moving the jaw too much through chewing.
Taking a little time out when the pain of TMJ hits and sitting quietly, meditating, yoga, reading a book or watching TV, even combined with some of the other techniques above, can really provide relief from the pain, promote better and faster healing and lead to a more complete recovery without drugs.