Many of us have had jaw pain or TMJ pain at some point in our life. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. The joint is made up of the temporal bone (skull bone) and the mandible (jaw bone). There is also a disc within this joint complex. There are 3 main muscles that elevate the jaw and 3 main muscles that lower the jaw. The main function of these muscles is to chew our food but they also play a significant role in swalllowing, speech and yawning. When these muscles get injured or over worked, they can produce symptoms just like any other muscle of the body. Symptoms can manifest as local pain in the TMJ area or it can be a referral pattern into the lower jaw or temporal region.
This joint acts like a hinge and allows up and down movements of the jaw. Normal jaw opening ranges from 48 – 52 mm. Less than 3 knuckles vertically in your mouth is considered decreased range of motion. I think we all know of someone or we are that someone who grinds their teeth. Grinding can lead to over active jaw elevator muscles causing pain, decreased range of motion or both. Forward head posture can lead to an over active jaw elevators, primarily the masseter causing temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD).
There are soft tissue techniques such as Active Release Techniques (ART), Post Isometric Relaxation (PIR) and other myofascial techniques that are successful in treating TMJ pain and diminished opening of the jaw. A study in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitaton, 1999, found that posture correction improved results in TMD patients with with myofascial pain and limited mouth opening.
Orofacial activation referenced as “rest position” typically involves tongue up in the roof of your mouth, lips together and teeth apart. If you find yourself grinding your teeth and starting to develop jaw pain, here is a little exercise to minimize the grinding. First, get to rest position. Once there, press your tongue repeatedly to the roof of your mouth. Find a pace that is not too fast and stick with it. As you press your tongue to the roof of your mouth, take your hand and feel your muscles activate in your throat region each time the tongue hits your roof of mouth. Doing this exercise through out the day can help take your mind of the grinding and alleviate some, if not all, of your jaw pain. Give it a try.
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