After chronic back pain, trouble with the temporomandibular joints is the second most common musculoskeletal condition causing pain. It affects some 10 million Americans, two-thirds of whom are women.
The TMJs form the hinge of the lower jaw—two joints on either side that hold it to the skull and allow movement. TMJ trouble generally causes jaw pain, painful chewing, headache, clicking or popping sounds and limited movement, sometimes reported as feeling like the jaw is “locked.”
Speak, eat, sing, yawn or sneeze—you’re working your TMJs. “It’s a small joint but has a big job. In fact they’re among the most used joints in the body,” explains Dr. Mark Kemenosh, who operates a chiropractic practice in southern New Jersey. “There’s a disc in there, padding between the jaw and skull. It’s prone to the same kind of wear-and-tear problems that affect the discs in the spine,” he says.
Stress a big culprit
Some TMJ problems come from trauma, for example a car accident or getting hit in the jaw playing sports. But a lot of TMJ seems to be rooted in stress. “Anecdotally, we are seeing more TMJ issues since the lockdown. The joint is particularly sensitive to stress. With working and schooling from home plus all the other challenges of the pandemic, I think that’s a likely culprit,” he says.
An inflamed TMJ can cause radiating problems, like headache, shoulder and neck pain, numbness in the jaw and face and ringing in the ears.
Dr. Mark says chiropractic can help, especially the technique he and his associates specialize in, focused on soft tissue. “It’s a sensitive joint and mobility isn’t usually the issue. In fact, many TMJ problems come from too much mobility—the joint isn’t as stable as it should be and allows the jaw to move unnaturally. That sets up irritation and inflammation that we can target with ART, Advanced Release Techniques,” he says.
Some TMJ problems are structural—and Dr. Mark and his team are careful to screen and refer those patients appropriately. But many TMJ problems are more related to muscles and connective tissue, where connective tissue attention can really make a difference.
This is welcome relief, especially for those who have met little success with other treatments. For decades, many TMJ problems were thought to stem from the teeth, leading some to end up having extensive dental work that rarely made a long-term difference.
Treating the whole head and neck
Dr. Mark says the entire head and neck are prone to stress-related tension that can lead to pain and stiffness. ART is an effective way to reduce some of that tension and increase blood flow.
Since it’s all interconnected, reducing stress in adjacent areas can help. For example, the muscles we use for chewing and speaking stretch up to the temples. “I also target the immovable joints of the skull. They’re immovable in name only. Naturally they don’t move like the shoulder or elbow joint, but there is some flexibility there and slow changes, almost like the tectonic plates of the earth. They respond to ART too, reducing tension in the whole system,” he says.
“I always look at the jaw, no matter what the patient comes in for, since it’s out most of the time. And the kind of symptoms TMJ problems cause can really have a detrimental impact on quality of life. Headache is a prime example. It’s hard to feel good in general when your head hurts all the time.”
If you are experiencing jaw pain, numbness or pops—especially if you’ve been unsuccessful finding solutions, call 856-228-3100 and ask about how ART chiropractic might help you feel better.