Popping, cracking, aching – it can happen in almost any joint in the body, but it seems especially uncomfortable when the joint in question is your jaw.
“Your jaw is actually the most unstable joint in your entire body,” says MMT’s Dr. Jeff Sergent. “If you think about it, it really has to move through several planes to move as you chew and talk. It’s a joint that has to hinge and slide.”
Jaw-associated joint pain is known as TMD (temporomandibular disorders) after your temporomandibular joint or jaw. The cause of TMD is not always easy to pinpoint, but the symptoms are.
“Patients may find themselves clenching their jaws or grinding their teeth, which is known as bruxism,” says Dr. Sergent. “The popping that people sometimes feel is the disk in the middle of the joint.”
In addition to localized jaw issues, people can also feel jaw pain or pain in the muscles of the head, neck or near the ear. Some people may also develop headaches.
Dr. Sergent says that TMD is something that is often treatable and manageable. For many people, it is also temporary.
“The clenching and grinding is a habit, and it is something that we can teach people to be aware of over time,” he said. “I teach them a neutral jaw position and they learn to check in with themselves to see if they are clenching their jaw.”
Psychologically, it takes about three weeks to form a new habit, and this retraining of the jaw usually is very helpful in reducing the problem.
Dr. Sergent and MMT Massage Therapist Peter Rodgers often work in tandem for patients with TMD issues.
“Manual therapy can help relax those muscles around the jaw,” he says. “A yawn is actually a great stretch for your jaw. Heat and cold therapy can also be helpful, which is something the patient can also do at home.”
More serious cases of TMD can result in a patient being unable to close their jaw comfortably, presenting with a jaw that locks or one that pops or catches, which can be due to degeneration.
“Some TMD is not simply muscular in nature, but can be caused by arthritis in the jaw or an erosion of the jaw disk,” he noted. “We are able to assess the severity of the problem and usually create a plan that will bring relief.”