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Manage Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Self-Care

Smile, laugh, talk, and chew- they may all seem like everyday facial movements, but for people suffering from Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ), those simple movements could cause severe discomfort.

“Most TMD symptoms tend to go away within several weeks to months. However, certain behaviours or harmful habits that strain jaw and neck muscles may exacerbate existing painful conditions,” according to Diana Hearn, PT, DPT, OCS of Penn Therapy & Fitness’s Musculoskeletal Team and Temporomandibular Disorders Program (TMD).

There are steps you can take at home to alleviate and manage temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain, offering temporary relief.

TMJ and TMD, Jaw Pain

Temporomandibular joints (TMJ), where your skull and lower jawbone meet, connect to muscles and ligaments used to move your mouth. Temporomandibular disorders like arthritis, dislocation, injury or infection of TMJ may result in painful clicking or locking of the jaw, headaches, neck pain, and even ringing in the ears.

Many individuals experience TMD symptoms temporarily; for others, however, pain and discomfort caused by moving facial muscles are chronic (long-lasting) and made worse by clenching, chewing, swallowing or grinding teeth over time.

8 Best Practices – TMJ Pain Relief

Hearn suggests that TMJ pain relief may be possible with nonsurgical solutions; here are eight effective strategies to manage TMJ symptoms without surgery:

Resting Position And Maintain Your Jaw

To reduce TMJ pain, reduce broad jaw movements such as chewing, yawning, singing and yelling. Work to keep muscles as relaxed as possible.

Correct your posture

Sitting for extended periods in an uncomfortable position can increase jaw pain.

When working, choose a chair with back support and take regular breaks to enhance your posture. While driving, adjust your seat as upright as possible for optimal posture. For leisure activities like watching television or reading books, choose an area that allows for upright sitting with support from a pillow behind your back for added comfort.

Hearn suggests this exercise to correct your sitting or standing posture: raise your chest bone, pull back shoulders and gently squeeze shoulder blades together while straightening back muscles.

Get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep is essential for good health in many aspects. To minimize TMJ pain, sleep on your back with pillows supporting your neck. Avoid sleeping on your stomach, and when lying on either side of your jaw, do not place any hand there.

Use Hot or Cold Compress

Ice can help reduce swelling and pain, while heat can increase blood flow and relax jaw muscles. Apply a hot or cold compress for 15-20 minutes, using a thin layer between it and your skin for maximum benefit.

Reduce stress

Meditation techniques may be effective in loosening and relaxing your jaw, while yoga practices may help relieve muscle stress. Gardening can also be an enjoyable activity that helps simultaneously relax your mind and face.

Exercise your jaw

Exercise to increase joint mobility. There are three forms of jaw exercises you can perform together to alleviate pain:

  • Stretch exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Relaxation exercises

Take notice of bad habits.

You may have a few tendencies that can cause TMD pain. Such habits include:

  •  Nail biting
  • Chewing cheeks and lips
  • Resting your jaw in your hand
  • Clenching your teeth
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Clenching jaw muscles pushing the tongue against your teeth
  • Please take note of your daily patterns and jot them down to discuss with your doctor. Keep in mind how often you do them.

Avoid certain activities and foods.

Specific activities and foods can cause your jaw to open aggressively or move significantly, so try to steer clear of these things as much as possible:

  • Yawning or yelling
  • Crunchy or hard foods
  • Taking large bites of food
  • Foods that require prolonged chewing
  • Chewing gum

Surgical Options for TMJ Pain

For some people with TMD, at-home pain relief exercises may not be enough.

“Penn Medicine offers comprehensive examination and intervention [for TMD], with an emphasis on conservative, reversible approaches such as physical therapy,” according to Hearn, who noted that Good Shepherd Penn Partners TMD specialists work hand in hand with Penn Medicine Oral and Maxillofacial surgeons in treating TMD/TMJ pain patients.

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