It’s not hard to see the connection between stress and TMJ.
Increased stress can cause muscle tension, ear pain, teeth grinding, jaw clenching and low mood which can initiate or worsen TMJ.
Many TMJ authors have written on this issue.
One of the possible causes of TMJ is believed to be emotional distress such as anxiety, depression or anger.
Studies have shown that sufferers of TMJ tend to have a higher incidence of anxiety, depression, distressing physical symptoms and sleep deprivation than those who don’t suffer from TMJ, and these are all considered important factors that put one at risk for developing TMJ.
These emotional states can worsen pain by sensitizing nerves in various parts of the body to detect pain more easily, and once this pain is detected, associated muscles tighten and cause tension, which in turn can promote more pain. This can develop into what is known as the vicious anxiety-pain-tension cycle, where the feedback mechanism constantly worsens and reiterates the pain messages being sent to the brain.
Of course dealing with the pain and distress caused by the effects of TMJ also causes a lot of pressure, stress, anxiety and low mood, which can make TMJ feel even more debilitating and difficult.
So stress is a factor that can both increase the risk of developing TMJ and can also develop as a result of TMJ and worsen existing symptoms and complications.
Due to the large role that stress can play in the disease process of TMJ, it’s important to take a close look at stress management techniques and different ways to help promote relaxation and rest when suffering with TMJ.
We’ve evaluated these 5 relaxation techniques to assist you with managing your TMJ and promote relaxation and rest while you recover from this painful condition.
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One of the best things you can do for TMJ, especially when it is in an acute stage is to simply rest the jaw.
This is easier said than done because resting the jaw means less talking, less chewing and even reducing other mouth movements like yawning and coughing.
Avoid resting on the affected side of the jaw and face and don’t hold items such as the telephone between your shoulder and head by bending your neck.
In order for you to take the proper opportunity to rest, you may need assistance with daily tasks for a short time, such as cooking, cleaning, driving and other manual tasks, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
A good way to rest would be to spend some time sitting in a comfortable chair that supports your head and neck without putting pressure on the jaw, and involving yourself in a still activity, such as reading, watching television, listening to pleasant music or even quietly meditating.
Avoid conversation and have your food cooked quite soft or even pureed to avoid excess jaw movement when chewing.
With these solutions you can get some rest for your jaw allowing the damaged tissue to heal and the TMJ inflammation to decrease.
Meditation is an excellent relaxation and pain relief technique for TMJ, as it allows you to quietly rest the jaw while training the mind to modulate the response to pain to become more tolerant and resilient.
A gentle focus on the breathing during meditation helps to train the mind to ‘play down’ the pain signals it is constantly receiving from the nervous system.
It also allows the mind to pacify the anxiety fight or flight response triggered by pain or various troubling thought patterns that might be associated with TMJ.
Mindfulness meditation may not be the only thing you need to solve your TMJ pain, but it has been shown to be highly effective at decreasing reactivity to pain signals and even some degree of ‘deactivation’ of brain sites associated with pain pathways.
For maximum benefit, mindfulness meditation should be practised for 20 minutes a day, although you can slowly build up to this length of time starting from as little as 5 minutes in order to get used to the peaceful experience of 'doing nothing’ in meditation.
Progressive Muscular Relaxation
Progressive muscular relaxation is another proven and effective method of relaxation that can provide relief to sufferers of TMJ.
The process of performing progressive muscular relaxation is similar to meditation, except that instead of focusing on the breath, one focus on the body in a systematic way.
Starting at the feet, one imagines the feet and all the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the feet relaxing.
If it’s difficult to visualize a relaxing sensation, you can briefly contract the muscles and then release them, providing a feeling of relaxation.
One continues with this process up throughout the whole body, staying focused on the feeling of the various parts of the body relaxing and releasing tension.
Take time to notice the sensations in your body – does your body feel light and floating, or is it heavy and dull?
Does it feel warm or cool?
Performing this kind of muscle relaxation can really help relieve the muscle tension and pain involved in TMJ and brings more awareness to times where you may be clenching the jaw or contracting muscles unnecessarily.
Here's an example:
Certain specialist masseuses (e.g. Shiatsu massage) can help provide relief for TMJ by conducting unique massage and muscular release techniques on TMJ sufferers.
This kind of treatment may not be suitable for all sufferers of TMJ as massage can sometimes make TMJ worse, but a personal consultation with a local specialist masseuse or physiotherapist should be able to inform you whether this method could work for you.
Large and small muscles throughout the head, neck, jaw, face and mouth can all be involved in TMJ and contributing to pain and tension.
A specialist massage therapist or physiotherapist can target some of these muscles helping them to relax, release and heal and provide you with some relief for your TMJ.
Therapy for TMJ
After the acute stage of the TMJ pain has passed and you’re able to talk without too much pain, receiving some cognitive behavioral therapy is a highly effective and proven way to help manage TMJ.
While it might seem strange to receive psychological therapy for a physical problem of TMJ, numerous studies have given great evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for TMJ and stress relief, ensuring you improve your health in both body and mind.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you to address your reaction to the pain of TMJ and learn new ways to manage it to increase well-being and happiness.
Studies have shown that 50-70% of sufferers of TMJ experienced a stressful life event in the 6 months before diagnosis, which once again reinforces this relationship between stress and TMJ.
Cognitive behavioural therapy helps to relieve stress and deal with the negative thought patterns that can feed the anxiety-pain-tension cycle in order to diminish pain and tension, and improve the symptoms of TMJ contributing to increased feelings of wellbeing and a better quality of life.