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The Role of Chiropractic Care in Treating TMJ Disorders: Relief from Jaw Pain and Headaches

May 23, 2023
Read Time: 9 Minutes

Can chiropractors help TMJ? Temporomandibular Joint disorder (TMJ) affects nearly 10 million people in the United States annually. The condition can be quite painful and interfere with many aspects of daily life. From jaw pain, ear pain, neck pain, back pain, and headaches, muscles tension to painful jaw when eating, it can affect many parts of your head, face, and shoulders.

After a TMJ diagnosis, patients are often presented with several solutions. Many of them are quite expensive. One option is a custom-designed mouthguard to wear while you're sleeping–though these can cost thousands of dollars to make. Even worse, insurance typically doesn't cover this type of treatment. This can leave patients feeling discouraged as if they're doomed to live in pain forever.

However, this isn't the case. You can take safe, holistic, and less expensive measures to relieve the uncomfortable condition. Chiropractic treatment is a popular option, as it's non-invasive, generally considered safe, has a low risk of side effects, and can begin reducing pain reasonably quickly. Many insurance companies do with chiropractic offices to help cover a portion of your care, including several Medicare plans.

If you're suffering from TMJ pain, seek help from a chiropractor today. Keep reading to learn more about the causes and symptoms of TMJ, how a chiropractor can help, the non-invasive treatments available and the benefits they pose, and more.

Causes and Symptoms of TMJ Disorders

TMJ is a medical condition that affects your jaw joint, muscles, and ligaments. There are many causes of TMJ, including wear and tear (especially from teeth grinding), a traumatic accident that involves your face or jaw, chronic conditions like arthritis, and a misalignment of your teeth that causes an improper bite. These improper bites may result from under or overbites, poor dental work, the shifting of teeth, and more.

The symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Pain when chewing, particularly in the jaw.
  • A "popping" noise when eating, opening, or closing your mouth.
  • The feeling of tightness or stiffness in the jar area, tongue, under your chin, and front of your upper neck.
  • Pain that may radiate down your neck or through your entire face.
  • Lack of proper motion in your jaw–being unable to fully open or close your mouth without pain or trouble chewing your food.
  • Vertigo or dizziness, impaired hearing, and ringing in the ears.
  • If your TMJ is not the result of an improper bite but is left untreated, it may lead to an uneven, uncomfortable bite in the future.

Most people agree that there's no pain worse or as impactful as that in the face and mouth area. The many symptoms accompanying TMJ can make it challenging to enjoy family dinners, cause pain throughout the day, and make daily living activities unpleasant. But chiropractic care can help.

The Role of Chiropractic Care In the Treatment of TMJ Disorder

Can chiropractors help TMJ pain? Yes. Chiropractic care is an excellent, non-invasive way to find relief from TMJ pain. They target the jaw bones and surrounding soft tissue to realign your jaw and alleviate pain. Chiropractors generally use various techniques throughout treatment to address the entire area for the best results.

How chiropractors help treat TMJ:

  • Manual chiropractic adjustments. This is a process where your chiropractor will facilitate jaw movement with their hands. This therapy focuses on realigning your jaw bones with the vertebrae in your neck. Correct alignment of your bones is crucial to managing pain and can help significantly.
  • Massage therapy. For TMJ treatment, chiropractors often massage to target the stiff, tight muscles and ligaments surrounding your jaw and upper neck. This is a localized massage focusing on the specific source of TMJ pain. This helps improve mobility and range of motion and relieve the tension you're experiencing in surrounding areas.
  • Electrical Stimulation (E-STIM). Many chiropractors implement the use of instrument-assisted therapy for TMJ treatment. One of the most popular forms is electrical stimulation, also called E-STIM. This process uses tiny electric pulses to the target area to reach nerves and muscles. E-STIM causes repeated muscle contractions, improving blood flow in the area and healing any small muscle tears and tension. It can also help block pain receptors for more immediate relief.
  • Manual Stretching. When treating TMJ, your chiropractor gently stretches your jaw, neck, and shoulders. This can help identify significant pain points and loosen tight muscles. It can also help during your initial evaluation to see where you're lacking range of motion. Your chiropractor will likely explain gentle exercises and stretches you can do at home between appointments to help relieve tension and retain better motion.
  • Upper cervical spine treatment. Since the jaw bones and muscles are so close to the base of your skull and upper neck, you'll likely experience some pain and tension in those areas. The cervical spine includes the very first vertebrae in your spinal cord, which begins at the top of your neck. Vertebrae C1 and C2 are usually the main focus points, though treatment may extend down to vertebrae C7.

Other Non-Invasive Treatment Options for TMJ

Can chiropractors help TMJ? Absolutely. But there are other non-invasive treatments to consider as well. The first is physical therapy, which is often available at chiropractors' offices. Physical therapy is often appropriate when treating TMJ that results from a traumatic injury that requires ongoing care to heal and manage pain.

Other non-invasive treatment options for TMJ include:

  • Botox. In recent years, Botox treatments have become more and more popular as a way to treat TMJ pain. Though it uses tiny needles, they reach just below the skin's surface. It helps by relaxing muscles to alleviate pain.
  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture is another therapy you'll likely find at your chiropractic office. Many people find this treatment relaxing and effective. It's appealing to patients as a holistic method of care with little to no side effects or pain.
  • Hot and Cold Therapy. Your chiropractor may advise you to use hot or cold therapy in-between appointments. This can include heating pads or ice packs. Follow directions regarding which treatment you should use, for how long, and how often.
  • Posture Correction. You can try a posture corrector to align your shoulders and spine correctly. This can relieve pressure in your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
  • Over-the-Counter Medication. Another way to treat TMJ pain is by using over-the-counter medication for short-term management. Your chiropractor will advise you on which is best for your condition. Check with your primary care physician before adding any medication, even OTC, to your regimen.
  • Herbal Supplements. Many people decide to add herbal supplements to their diets when holistically treating a condition. Patients often look for those touted for their anti-inflammatory benefits. While this may be appropriate for some, many of these effects are not backed by science. They may also cause adverse side effects like upset stomach or poor interactions with other medications. Before adding an herbal supplement to your daily routine, check with your doctor.

Your chiropractor may suggest a combination of these alternative treatments and your other in-office therapies. Using multiple techniques is common among those suffering from TMJ. You'll likely feel better faster and maintain pain relief by following these therapies' recommendations.

Benefits of Chiropractic Care versus Traditional Medical Treatment

Many patients turn to chiropractor care for TMJ rather than participate in traditional medical treatment. Chiropractic care is generally less expensive, takes a whole-body natural approach, and is entirely non-invasive. There are usually little-to-no side effects or risks in seeking chiropractic treatment for TMJ.

Traditional Medical Treatments

Traditional medical treatment consists of creating custom mouthguards to use at night. However, this usually doesn't permanently banish pain. Additionally, the average price of these mouthguards can top $1,000 out-of-pocket, which is a big spend. They're also not guaranteed to work and generally don't work quickly.

Another common medical treatment is to seek care from an orthodontist. They may recommend a mouth splint, braces, a retainer, or tooth-straightening treatments. Again, this can be quite costly, sometimes painful, and take quite a while before you see results.

With orthodontics, you have to return to the office for check-ups and likely change your eating habits. Certain foods can break braces, and you'll have to steer clear of foods and candy that are sticky or gooey. If something goes wrong, you'll have to pay to fix the devices again. Many people also don't like the look of braces.

With retainers and teeth straightening processes, you must remember to take them out before eating, clean your teeth before putting them back in, and sanitize the devices. You can't skip any days, or the treatment is far less likely to work. This can become tedious and time-consuming, and many find it challenging to keep up long-term.

Chiropractic Care

When visiting a chiropractor, many patients report experiencing at least some pain relief immediately after just one visit. There are no unsightly devices in your mouth that you have to worry about maintaining.

Furthermore, traditional orthodontic treatment doesn't address anything but your mouth. When you see a chiropractor, you know you're getting whole-body care. Chiropractors address muscles and ligaments, target specific areas using specialized instruments, and ensure that your spine and jaw align for optimum relief.

Additionally, chiropractors offer a more comprehensive range of services than an orthodontist. You can get multiple treatments in one place, with many providers offering massage therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, E-STIM, and more. This makes the process simple, straightforward, and more comfortable.

How Stress and Tension Can Contribute to TMJ Disorders

While we know that TMJ is a common condition that results from various causes like injury, grinding teeth, and chronic health conditions, stress, and tension can also contribute to the problem.

Our jaw muscles are closely connected to the nerves in our bodies that stimulate the innate fight-or-flight response. When your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, it's because your brain senses something dangerous or frightening. This causes your muscles to tense up as you prepare to stay and fight or run away. Flight-or-flight is a physical response as old as man, meant to be a survival tactic.

People with anxiety or those who frequently find themselves in stressful situations are more likely to enter this state. This means your muscles tense up more frequently, which affects the muscles around your jaw. It can also cause excessive teeth clenching, aggravating symptoms of TMJ.

When this reaction happens repeatedly, the muscle tension pulls your jaw bones out of alignment. When this happens, pressure increases on the TMJ point, which leads to pain. While the bodily response is perfectly normal, it's not always helpful and has adverse effects on many body parts–including your jaw.

Those who are under significant amounts of stress often engage in subconscious behaviors. These can include nail biting, foot jiggling, and teeth clenching. This teeth clenching is usually accompanied by night-time teeth grinding, which irritates the jaw bone and muscles. It can cause TMJ or worsen symptoms over time without proper care and treatment.

Stress and tension cannot only exacerbate the existing symptoms of a TMJ diagnosis but also cause the condition. Many people don't associate this type of stress or tension with TMJ but consider looking into treatment if you're experiencing symptoms.

Schedule an Appointment Today

Can chiropractors help TMJ? At ChiroCare of Florida, we have providers specializing in this treatment to help you find relief quickly and maintain your comfort with non-invasive treatment.

Once you begin chiropractic care for TMJ, your jaw joint and face will start to feel better, and you'll also sense less tension and pain in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Your headaches are likely to lessen and may disappear entirely over time.

We have ten convenient offices throughout South Florida, and our providers have over 100 years of combined experience. We're the chiropractic care center that countless residents choose for treatment. With evening hours and weekend appointments available upon request, we make it easy to schedule visits that fit your routine.

Call us today at (877) 388-2165 today or complete our online form, and we'll reach out as soon as possible.

About the Author:
Dr. Steven Schwartz
Raised in Coral Springs, Florida, Dr. Steven Schwartz is a major advocate for the South Florida community. CEO of ChiroCare of Florida, Dr. Schwartz has grown the group from one facility to 11. Whether he’s treating patients or volunteering for community service, Dr. Schwartz’s long-term goal is to ensure that each and every patient can experience the ChiroCare of Florida difference.
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