If you’re suffering from TMJ pain you may be considering whether chiropractic care could help. Most people aren’t exactly clear on what treatments chiropractors provide and what conditions chiropractors treat.
To help clear things up regarding chiropractic care and TMJ, I’ll cover some common questions for you such as “What are the best home remedies for TMJ pain?” “What can chiropractors do for TMJ pain?” and “Should I see a chiropractor for TMJ pain?”
What are the Best Home Remedies for TMJ?
The best treatments for TMJ are home care, to start with. If your TMJ pain is a new complaint, it very well may go away on it’s own with a little bit of time. If it doesn’t, I recommend trying home remedies first to relieve TMJ pain as the next step.
Here are some home remedies for TMJ that you can try before seeking out a doctor:
- Apply heat to the TMJ area – Using heat, especially moist heat can improve blood flow to the TMJ area and relieve muscle tightness and pain. Try a small heat pack or a moist towel that you’ve heated up. Try 10-15 minutes of heat on each side of your jaw. Putting heat over you upper neck and back may actually help relieve TMJ as well, so try that if you haven’t. In the office we have really nice moist heat packs, but I use this one at home when I put heat on my jaw, neck, and upper back –> Moist Heat Pack for the Jaw
- Massage your jaw muscles – Use your hands to massage the masseter muscles (the muscles on the side of your face over your TMJ.) You can find these by biting down, and feeling where the muscles bulge out. Rub these muscles firmly and find where your TMJ trigger points (tender spots) are. You can then put some pressure on these tender spots and slowly open and close your jaw 10 times to release them. Don’t work them so hard that it’s really painful.
- Stretch your jaw muscles – You can actually stretch your jaw muscles to relieve muscle tightness. PIR stretching is the best way to do this. PIR (post-isometric relaxation) stretching is when you move your jaw all the way to one direction, and then lightly move your jaw against your own resistance from your hand. Follow that by then moving it a little further into that same direction. Try this 3-5 times into 3 directions (left, right, and down.)
- A night guard for TMJ pain – You can buy mouth pieces on Amazon that may help if you’re clenching your jaw at night. You can form them following the directions and heating them up to fit your mouth. They aren’t that uncomfortable to wear and may relieve TMJ pain. Dentists who specialize in TMJ often make a specific night guard for you. Here’s one I’ve tried before, this link will take you to Amazon where you can purchase it –> Night Guard for TMJ
- Relaxation techniques like mediation – A lot of times we clench our jaws and carry tension in our face when we’re worried, stressed, or having anxiety. These are feelings that happen to everyone, and it may just be a season of your life. You can learn to meditate easily, I did it by following the plan in a book called 8 Minute Meditation. It helped not only my TMJ, but how I manage stress in my life overall. You can find that book here if you want to give it a shot –> 8 Minute Mediation
- Use a different pillow – Most of the time TMJ pain is worse in the morning. Using a different pillow that supports your neck and isn’t too high or too low can help with this. I like using only 1 pillow instead of trying to figure out a combination of pillows to work. It’s hard to be consistent from night to night if you’re doing that and you may shift your pillows around at night. Pillow selection comes down to personal preference and sometimes it takes trial and error. This pillow has helped me a lot and it I was able to add/remove the stuffing to make it right for me –> Dream Rite Hypoallergenic Pillow
- Make a few diet changes and quit bad habits – There are a few diet changes that may help with TMJ pain. First, avoid chewing gum, this may increase jaw tightness and lead to pain. Decrease your intake of chewy and sticky foods that take more work to chew. Obviously tobacco use is not good for you and may have a relationship with TMJ pain, so stopping that is a good idea.
- Decrease coffee and caffeine intake – Caffeine is a natural stimulant, and likely leads to more tension in the jaw, face and neck muscles. More tension in these muscles results in greater resting tone of the muscle and can force you to position your jaw in aggravating positions, even when you don’t realize it.
- Exercise more, but avoid exercises that stress the neck – Exercise is improves blood flow, relieves stress, and we all know it’s generally something we should be doing. If you’re just starting to exercise, shoot for 3-5 times a week for 30 mintues. One thing to note is that you may want to avoid exercises that will make your neck sore, as this wont help with your TMJ pain. Sometimes pull-ups cause neck strain so they may be a good one to avoid for a little bit until you’re feeling better.
- Upper back and neck stretches – TMJ pain seems to have a close association with the neck and upper back posture and function. Stretching your upper back and neck before bed can relieve muscle tension in these areas.
You may have tried some of these home remedies already but hopefully this gives you a few tips on relieving TMJ pain that you haven’t tried yet. You don’t necessarily need to do all 10 of them right away, but start with a few and determine which ones help you get rid of your TMJ pain.
Remember, a lot of times TMJ pain will go away on it’s own with a little bit of time. There are also dental issues which can cause TMJ issues as well. If you suspect you have a dental issue that’s contributing to your TMJ pain you should consult a dentist and get that cleared up.
This image give you an idea of what the TMJ area looks like. The TMJ is a more complex joint than you may think. It has a small disc in it that can sometimes get displaced and be the reason you have TMJ pain.
What Can Chiropractors do for TMJ?
Our Cary NC chiropractors have successfully treated and relieved TMJ pain in a number of patients. We’ve also treated TMJ pain in conjunction with TMJ specialist dentists, medial doctors, and massage therapists.
Chiropractic care can help relieve TMJ pain through treatments such as joint manipulation and mobilization, rehab exercises, soft tissue release, dry needling, and acupuncture. Let’s look at how these treatments may be used to relieve your TMJ pain.
Joint manipulation and mobilization for TMJ – There may be a relationship between poor functioning spinal joints in the neck and upper back and TMJ pain. This is likely due to postural syndromes that develop over time and change the relationship between the jaw, occiput, cervical spine, and thoracic spine. Restoring movement and relieving stiffness in these areas with chiropractic manipulation and/or mobilization can bring relief to those with TMJ pain.
See this brand new study that found women with TMJ pain couldn’t look down and up as well because of poor mobility in their neck –> Mobility of the upper cervical spine and muscle performance of the deep flexors in women with temporomandibular disorders.
Rehab Exercises for TMJ relief – When you have a structural issue such as TMJ, there’s going to be a faulty movement pattern at the root of it. Rehab exercises are going to be the long-term solution for TMJ pain, and we make sure all of our patients get a personalized rehab plan. Exercises help by fixing poor movement patterns in the jaw, head, neck, and upper back which are at the root of TMJ pain.
Soft tissue release to muscles around the TMJ – Using soft tissue release like Graston Technique and Active Release in the right areas can help release tension and adhesions in your muscles and fascia. This frees up your tissues and joints to move correctly again without pain.
Dry Needling for jaw pain – Believe it or not dry needling for TMJ pain is an effective treatment. Dry needling addresses trigger points and normalizes muscle tone in the muscles of the TMJ, face, and neck regions. If you’re feeling tightness and pain in the muscles around your jaw then dry needling for TMJ can really help relieve it.
Acupuncture to treat TMJ pain – Acupuncture can be effective at reducing pain associated with TMJ and has some research to support it’s use. It may also help manage your stress and anxiety which is often a contributing factor to TMJ pain. Acupuncture for TMJ pain generally involves placing some needles around the jaw, but also needles in strategically chosen areas further away from the jaw.
See this newer study in the journal Medicine that supports the effectiveness of acupuncture for TMJ –> Acupuncture therapy in the management of the clinical outcomes for temporomandibular disorders
This is a neat image of TMJ x-rays showing the boney structures of the jaw and face. Chiropractors aren’t going to routinely take x-rays of the jaw unless they suspect there could be pathology, which is pretty rare.
Should I See a Chiropractor for TMJ Pain?
A chiropractor can oftentimes help relieve TMJ pain if you’ve tried home remedies and it isn’t going away on it’s own. The risks of chiropractic care are extremely low, so seeking out a chiropractor first is a good first step before more invasive and risky treatments.
Your chiropractor will do a thorough exam to make sure it’s a musculoskeletal problem that can be helped with chiropractic care and therapy, and not a dental or more complex neurological issue. As long as it is typical TMJ pain, our chiropractors typically begin a trial of care and expect significant improvement in pain and function.
Make sure you find a chiropractor that has experience working with TMJ complaints, like the chiropractors in Cary at Accesshealth. Not every chiropractor treats TMJ pain, but most have experience as it’s a relatively common complaint. Hopefully I’ve given you a glimpse of how our chiropractors for TMJ pain can help and what treatments we use when addressing this condition.
Dr. Jason Williams DC is a chiropractic physician practicing at AccessHealth Chiropractic in Cary, NC. He treats neuromusculoskeletal pain and injuries using chiropractic manipulation, dry needling, acupuncture, rehab exercise strategies, and other supportive therapies. Primary areas of focus include back pain, neck pain, muscular pain, extremity pain, and orthopedic injuries. Dr. Williams is experienced in treating athletes, especially those in the CrossFit, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and MMA community.
If you’re interested in whether he or another AccessHealth provider can help you, navigate to our contact page or follow this link to request an appointment.