It has been nearly 42 years since the legendary movie "Jaws" was released. It was a cinema masterpiece of its time with bucket loads of suspense and horror that managed to scare everyone from swimming in the ocean for years afterward. Well, so I'm told. With the clever use of animatronics, images of bloody big dorsal fins and spooky music it left movie goers nursing tense and sore jaws from clenching their teeth through anxiety and fear. Segue complete. See that? Jaws and jaw pain?
Jaw pain is a pretty common issue affecting 33% of the general population at some time in life (1). Of that population there seems to be more significant spike in the age range of 20-40 year olds, with a significant portion of that number needing to seek treatment from a health professional. Anxiety is a key contributor to jaw pain but it is not the only reason people experience pain in/around the jaw or temporomandibular joint (TMJ). We commonly refer to pain around the TMJ as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder or TMD. It is actually not one single disorder but representative of multiple sub groups of issues. They are typically categorised as muscle problems or joint problems.
WHAT CAN YOUR OSTEOPATH DO?
At Fairfield Osteopathic Clinic we take into account the whole person when dealing with the treatment of TMD. In other words we need to understand the underlying causal factors, which may range from mechanical joint factors, emotional stress or functional overuse issues (think Australian gum-chewing cricketer). There are also direct links between neck pain and TMD and any assessment will recognise the connection. There is plenty of evidence both clinically and through peer reviewed research to suggest that the neck and jaw are pretty tight in their relationship with one another (pardon the pun). One paper suggesting that 70% of TMD sufferers also experience neck pain (2).
A worthy TMD assessment will always encompass an actual physical assessment of the muscles around the jaw and the joint movement itself. This will guide treatment options. As osteopaths we use lots of direct and indirect techniques to modulate pain, but without addressing underlying causal factors that impact the jaw then relief may not last for long. These irritating causal factors might include chewing gum, chewing meals on one side of the mouth, specific dental issues, night time bruxism or teeth grinding and habitual jaw clenching (a lot of people don't realise they clench until they actively relax their jaw muscles). There are simple relaxation exercises for the jaw that are easy to practice and master. Head down to the end of the BLOG for some ideas.
Self management strategies are essential in dealing with any long term TMD. A large study published in November 2016 attempted to collate as much data on self management strategies and form a best practice management strategy for longterm TMD. These strategies include:
1. Education - a bit of positivity is a good start as pain is usually self-limiting. Understanding the anatomy and usual function of the TMJ complex and associated musculature can be helpful too. Other ideas include improved sleep hygiene (don't watch Jaws before bed), sensible and time-limited use of analgesia, avoidance of OTC splints bought without consultation with a dentist, limit caffeine usage, ‘doctor shopping’ won't help.
2. Self exercise therapy - gentle stretches for the jaw muscles and relaxation exercises, which are best explained by your osteopath.
3. Heat treatment - usually heat for sore jaw muscles is best. Ice treatment is best avoided due to the sensitivity of the nerves that innervate the area (remember ice-cream headaches)
4. Self massage therapy - there are very simple self massage techniques for the main jaw muscles and upper neck muscles. Again these are best explained in person as a little goes a long way.
5. Diet and Nutrition - it's important to establish a pain-free diet for at least three weeks. That means avoiding excessive chewing or hard-to-chew foods. In other words TMD sufferers may need to establish a "soft diet" until sensitivity decreases.
6. Parafunctional behaviour - this is the tricky one. There are often habits that irritate the jaw that we seem to not have as much control over e.g. grinding teeth or jaw clenching during sleep, which is called nocturnal bruxism. This may require some other modalities of therapy or medication to help. Reflecting on coping strategies for stress and anxiety may be pivotal to changing some of these nocturnal habits (3).
Stand in front of a mirror.
Hold your palms gently on the side of your face - covering your cheeks.
Let your lower jaw fall into your hands. In other words relax it and let it go all loose.
Now practice that again without using yours hands on your face. Make as long a face as possible.
If you are having trouble mouth the sound "Bah". It lets your lower jaw fall open. Repeat that until you get a sense of your jaw relaxing.
If you practice this in the mirror then when you are at work throughout the day you can put your hands on your face and use that as a trigger for your face and jaw to relax. You are creating awareness around the difference between tension and ease.
Good luck and don't hesitate to make a booking to see us if things are a bit out of control.
1. Wright, Edward F., and Sarah L. North. "Management and treatment of temporomandibular disorders: a clinical perspective." Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy 17.4 (2009): 247-254.
2. Silveira, A., et al. "Jaw dysfunction is associated with neck disability and muscle tenderness in subjects with and without chronic temporomandibular disorders." BioMed research international 2015 (2015).
3. Durham, Justin, et al. "Self‐management programmes in temporomandibular disorders: results from an international Delphi process." Journal of Oral Rehabilitation 43.12 (2016): 929-936.