aka What is TMJ?

Maybe your jaw has been clicking for some time. Or you’ve had jaw tenderness and neck pain for just a few weeks. When you consider that we move our jaw upwards of 20,000 times a day while eating, chewing and talking, it can be scary when it becomes painful or starts to click!

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The tempromandibular joint (TMJ) is located between your temporal bone (part of the skull) and your mandible (jaw). This synovial joint is where the two bones meet and allow for movement, giving you the ability to talk, chew and eat. All synovial joints have cartilage (think of the cartilage and meniscus in your knees) but the cartilage of the TMJ is unique to the shape of the joint. In the TMJ, the cartilage is shaped like a disk and lubricates and cushions the joint through all motions it is capable of.

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Your jaw allows for opening and closing, as well as a side to side (called lateral deviation) and a forward and backward glide (called protraction and retraction). This allows for all of the necessary motions for eating, talking and chewing.

While the joint is stabilized by a thick outer cover layer (called the fibrous joint capsule), it must be somewhat loose to allow for a wide range of motion, i.e. stuffing a Double Double into your mouth. This extra mobility can also become a problem when the tension and force on the joint are not balanced.

This asymmetrical tension is usually a result of overly tight and stiff muscles on one side of the joint or jaw compared to the other. There are many muscles that attach in the neighborhood of the TMJ, but the number of soft tissues that are connected via fascia is even greater.

When it comes to jaw pain, the usual suspects are the masseter and its partner the temporalis, the SCM (sternocleidomastoid) and the deep neck flexors on the front of the neck. The tongue is also a key player in jaw pain as it too is a muscle and is continuous with much of the fascia down the front of the neck and into the chest.

In an ideal situation, these muscles help to stabilize the head on the neck and assist with movement of the jaw. The biggest culprit for uneven tension/strength in this area? Forward head posture aka text neck (more on that next week!).

Stress is another big culprit when it comes to jaw tension and pain as it stiffens and tightens the soft tissues around the jaw and TMJ.  When we are stressed, we often clench our teeth, and sometimes this clenching continues through the night. This can leave the masseter and temporalis hypertonic (aka hypercontracted) which will continue to cause issues if not addressed.

Jaw pain is not a life sentence and there are many things you can do to help alleviate the strain and stress of poor posture. Clicking, neck pain, shoulder pain are all red flags that should be addressed because you only get one jaw in this lifetime, and if your ability to eat and communicate with those around you is affected, it kind of sucks. Want a free jaw pain fix with solutions you can do right now? Click the link below.

Keep tuning in this month for more on jaw pain and how to address the common causes of tension causing pain.

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