UPDATE: For detailed information and practical steps to help you beat TMJ disorder naturally, take a look at TMJ No More.
Millions of people are affected by temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ every year.
In fact, it is estimated around 20 – 30% of people are affected by TMJ to some degree each year.
It more often affects women than men and those in the 20-40 year old age group are more at risk.
While no precise cause can often be identified, contributing factors include joint damage due to joint degeneration, trauma or jaw dislocation, misalignment of the joint, teeth grinding, stress and even hormones and genetics.
The difficult symptoms of TMJ include pain when talking and eating, headaches, pain in the jaw or teeth, eye pain, decreased jaw movement, swelling, and a grating feeling or sound when opening the jaw. Many of these symptoms are caused by inflammation within the joint which propagates pain, increases swelling and can cause redness and hotness near the joint.
If there is joint damage in the temporomandibular joint, the jaw may lock or ‘catch’ and there may be a grating feeling within the joint.
Stress can contribute to an overall worsening of the symptoms by contributing to teeth grinding, muscle tension and further anxiety which worsens the sensations of pain.
Many sufferers of TMJ turn to powerful anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants in desperation to get quick relief for their symptoms.
However these particular drugs can often be expensive and bring a range of side effects, with stomach irritation and drowsiness being on the more minor end of the scale.
With the list we provide here, you can have some effective, no-drug solutions for TMJ relief on hand and get the comfort and pain relief you need without excess pill popping.
TMJ Heat and Cold Pack Application
As we mentioned above, the disease process that occurs within the temporomandibular joint in TMJ involves a lot of inflammation, and this inflammation brings with it pain, swelling, redness and heat.
If you are in the acute stage of dysfunction with TMJ, where this inflammation response is occurring, especially if there is heat around the joint, your best benefits will be derived by applying a cold pack to the area.
Professional gel cold packs are best because they maintain the right cool temperature to be applied to skin but ice and other frozen products can be used, just ensure that all cold packs or ice are wrapped with a towel before applying to skin. The cold pack can help to reduce inflammation, numbing pain and reducing swelling which allows the healing process to begin.
Apply the cold pack for no more than 10-15 minutes at a time, although after giving it a rest you can repeat the application multiple times through the day for relief as needed.
If your jaw is more of the side of being stiff and stuck instead of inflamed, and there is definitely no hotness or inflammation coming from the joint, you can apply a moist warm heat pack such as a hot water bottle or warm wheat bag.
Always be careful of the temperature and once again always wrap in a towel to prevent burning.
Moist heat applied to the joint can help ease aches and pains and get the blood flowing in stiff and functionless joints.
Increased blood flow helps bring healing factors and cells to the joint, allowing a faster recovery for you.
Again, only apply the heat pack for 10-15 minutes or until some relief is felt.
You can actually combine cold and hot therapy by applying a cold pack first for about 10 minutes, then applying a warm heat pack for 5 minutes at the end.
This approach is useful for painful and stiff joints to reduce inflammation and rejuvenate muscle function in the jaw.
TMJ Relaxation Techniques
When you’re really suffering with the pain, it’s hard to think of trying to relax but this can be one of the most effective treatments you try.
The fact is that stress and emotional upset have been linked to both the cause and the aggravation of TMJ symptoms, and techniques for relaxation and stress relief have been found to have a strong positive effect on the sensations of pain felt in TMJ.
Stress, depression, anxiety and anger can worsen pain by sensitizing nerves in various parts of the body to detect pain more easily, causing muscle tightness and tension, which in turn can promote more pain.
This can develop into what is known as the vicious “anxiety-pain-tension” cycle.
In a study that investigated the effect of using relaxation techniques to manage TMJ pain, it was found that progressive muscular relaxation exercises effectively reduced pain and improved the range of motion in the jaw joint.
These relaxation exercises were even helpful in cases where there was an imbalance on each side of the jaw, where the exercises helped to correct this imbalance.
The muscle relaxation technique used was similar to progressive muscular relaxation, when one visualises the various parts of the body relaxing from the toes to the head, or for a greater effect, each muscle can be briefly contracted and then released to provide a relaxing, loosening effect throughout the body.
Physiotherapy and Massage for TMJ
Joint stiffness, along with muscle tightness and tension are huge contributing factors to the pain and disability associated with TMJ.
Physiotherapy can help to quickly loosen locked up joints and create improved mobility with a variety of professional techniques2.
Physiotherapists can offer a range of fantastic services for sufferers of TMJ including hands on massage and treatment, as well as having professional equipment such as TENS machines on hand to help relieve pain more effectively.
A good masseuse or physiotherapist can also teach you at home techniques and exercises that you can use at anytime wherever pain strikes to help loosen muscles and unlock joints at home and keep the joint functioning well.
It’s important to choose a masseuse or physiotherapist who has good knowledge and experience in dealing with TMJ as certain types of massage can worsen the pain or headaches associated with TMJ.
Rest to relieve TMJ
Although it’s one of the hardest things to do when you’re suffering with TMJ and running a busy life, one of the most important and effective ways to relieve the pain and tension of TMJ is to simply take some rest.
Even daily activities that are considered normal for most people including chewing, talking, yawning and coughing can exacerbate the pain and irritation of TMJ.
Although many TMJ sufferers might prefer to just pop a pill and ‘power on’, this is neglecting the body’s need to rest, recover and heal.
Enlist the help of family and friends to allow you to rest your jaw by abstaining from excess talking or chewing.
When you’re experiencing bad jaw pain it’s a good idea to only choose soft foods and liquids to avoid moving the jaw too much through chewing.
Taking a little time out when the pain of TMJ hits and sitting quietly, meditating, reading a book or watching TV, even combined with some of the other techniques above, can really provide relief from the pain, promote better and faster healing and lead to a more complete recovery without drugs.