I’ve had TMJ disorder for as long as I can remember.
For much of my early adult life, I struggled with TMJ related issues without actually knowing that it was TMJ.
I distinctly remember mornings waking up feeling like death.
Often I’d put it down to not sleeping well or I’d say to myself:
"Maybe I'm coming down with something."
The problem with TMJ disorder is that before you learn what it is, the symptoms are all over the place and hard to identify. Even explaining to a doctor makes you sound like a hypochondriac because symptoms are so varied and it never makes sense.
But looking back now I can see so often that my TMJ was the culprit.
If only I’d known!
So over recent years, I’ve developed my own strategies for dealing with TMJ “flare ups”.
Much of it is about learning to really listen to your body - understand what’s normal and what’s not. Don’t assume the worst.
Treat stress and anxiety the same way you treat smoking or junk food
I used to hate it when people would suggest stress or anxiety were to blame.
"This sickness I'm feeling is real! Stop telling me I'm making it up."
Well it is real alright.
I’ve learned to look at stress and anxiety as the most dangerous things I can expose my body to.
Stress and anxiety kill.
And it’s not the obvious stress necessarily that I’m talking about (where you know you’re stressed out over something).
It’s the subtle build-up of subconscious stress over time.
Over hours or days, your muscles constrict more and more, your blood pressure rises and without even realizing it, your jaw is clenching.
The muscles in your face and neck are tight and in a permanent state of tension.
You must learn to identify this when it’s happening.
Learn to hear your body - understand when you’re tensing up. Stop and pay attention.
Whatever it is that you’re doing, stop it immediately and seek calm.
This may look different for you - for myself, it’s the gym or classical music. Or deep breathing. Or watching some comedy and laughing.
Treat it as a life or death issue when it comes (because it is).
Don’t power on and deal with it later - the tension will grow, your anxiety or stress will get out of control and then you’ll have a very hard time releasing it.
Spend time and money finding your optimal sleep position and gear
I used to think spending enormous money on bedding was pretentious.
I remember a decade or so ago, my uncle went out and bought an extremely expensive mattress and I mocked him for it.
What a waste of money!
What I’ve learned over time (and this may be common sense for other people) is that you really cannot put a price on a great night’s sleep.
This is also true of finding the correct incline position (I sleep on a slight incline now which helps immensely).
Bottom line is: the more comfortable you are, the more relaxed you are. And the more relaxed you are, the less tense you’re going to be.
The less tension, the better off your TMJ will be.
Get off the meds unless it's absolutely necessary
It’s so easy to pop a few Tylenol (paracetamol) when you have TMJ pain.
The problem is it’s only masking your issues.
My advice to everyone is that your goal should always be to treat as much as possible as naturally as possible and only ever resort to medication (prescribed or OTC) when you have no other choice.
Taking a couple of Tylenol might get rid of headache pain but it won’t make you feel less cloudy.
It won’t reduce your tension.
You’ll still feel terrible - just with a little less pain.
I have some Flexeril in my medicine cabinet (a prescribed muscle relaxant) but I only ever take it when I’m extremely tense and stressed out over something major and need some medicinal help.
It’s basically an absolute last resort.
I usually take Flexeril leading up to a big trip or some highly stressful work event.
But never as a routine treatment.
Nourish your body and watch the difference it makes to your TMJ disorder
At the height of my TMJ trouble, my diet was atrocious.
I ate so much garbage - soda, fatty foods, excessive sugar, caffeine.
Caffeine is still a struggle for me admittedly (I love coffee) but I very rarely eat anything packaged anymore.
Sugary food is out.
And if I do eat a very rare unhealthy snack, I never do it in the evening before bed.
Sugar and caffeine especially will get your body doing all kinds of things during sleep instead of relaxing. Your TMJ will tense up when you’re high on sugar and caffeine.
Make sure to nourish your body with the right supplements that promote muscle relaxation.
We’ve shared some of the best ones here.
How are you treating your TMJ? What’s worked and hasn’t worked?