Chronic TMJ pain effects between 15-20% of Americans. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, the point at which the jaw articulates and functions as you open and close the mouth to talk, chew food, yawn, etc.
Injury, chronic stress and tension of the main muscles surrounding the TMJ or the joint itself leads to pain, clicking, popping and referred pain around the neck, head and even shoulders. Many times it can lead to a diagnosis of temporomandibular joint dysfunction; TMD.
There are many causes for TMD, or chronic TMJ pain, and each person can develop this disorder differently. Either from one cause, or a collective number of issues. The recipe for TMD usually includes one or many of the following ingredients:
- Dental abnormalities
- Bite imbalances
- Injury or trauma
- Chronic stress
- Postural imbalances
- Cranial imbalances
Commonly, dentists will address TMJ pain by fitting a person with mouth guards, and if the bite imbalances are severe enough, braces and retainers may be needed. Other treatments for those seeking pain relief of the TMJ or diagnosed TMD include:
- Muscle relaxers
- Stretching of the muscles around jaw
- Physical therapy
- Even surgery
The reason why many of these treatments do not work long term is because they do not identify and then address the cause. In some cases, braces or retainers could reverse the disorder if the bite abnormality is the only thing causing TMD in the patient. But in most cases there are unidentified and untreated dysfunctions that precede the TMJ pain. So when you “fix” the bite, or stretch the muscles, a patient will experience temporary relief. However, if there’s a severe cranial misalignment causing the TMJ tension, then eventually that dysfunction will pull everything back to where it was. You can stretch a rubber band, but each time you let go it will retract to its original form.
When you take muscle relaxers and painkillers, you are only addressing the pain and discomfort. You are not actually fixing the problem. Pain is a symptom of a problem, much like the TMD itself. More often than not, when we identify a problem (or cause) in our patients, that, too, is simply another symptom (or consequence) of something else.
Even surgery, as extreme as it can be, does not permanently fix TMD. Personally, I understand this, regrettably. I suffered TMD for half of my life. So much so that I just got used to it. Until the dysfunction of my jaw required maxillofacial surgery. I had let this go so long, with many periods of physical therapy and wearing night guards to no avail, that my facial structure was collapsing. After six months of post-op recovery, having my jaws literally sawed out of my face and re-inserted with metal plates and screws, I did feel better.
However, it was around this time I began to study integrative therapy and functional exercise kinesiology. As some of my symptoms began to pop back up, and I’d feel my jaw trying to collapse back into dysfunction (more prominent now that I had metal in my face), I’d have to go back to wearing my retainers 24/7 to realign it. But why was it trying to move? Didn’t the screws hold it in place now? The more this continued, and simultaneously the more I worked through my research and studies at the time, I began to question everything leading up to this.
I concluded that it wasn’t the muscles of my jaw causing the problem. Most dentists and chiropractors theorize that grinding and bite dysfunctions are where this stops. And I certainly had a bite dysfunction (corrected by braces), and I did grind at night.
But we never figured out why my bite was off or WHY I kept grinding?
Turns out my bite was off because I had many cranial imbalances, which also teamed up with misalignments in the upper cervical spine. These were the issue. Upon addressing these through corrective exercises, designing my own program and getting somatic work done, I stopped having issues with the jaw completely.
Now, two things I need to mention. First, my dysfunctions didn’t even stop at the cervical spine. Fixing that alignment, as well as cranial work, did work for the jaw issues. But other things preceded the misalignments of the upper body, which notably presented themselves as root causes to other health issues.
Secondly, I must mention that a person’s metaphysical correlations must not be ignored and thus we need to highlight the fact that chronic stress (mental, emotional, spiritual) is the root of all these things. So each time I find myself in a significantly stressful week or even a stressful season of life, I will see these issues pop up again. The good news is that now I know what to do about it.
Neurosomatic Therapy stands apart from other treatment options because it finds the root cause of all root causes. Meaning, the practitioner will identify the preceding factor of one dysfunction and correct it. But that factor also has a preceding dysfunction. So step by step, each dysfunction is corrected as a whole, therefore preventing any further injury or pain.
For example, many people who have chronic TMJ pain and symptoms will also complain of simultaneous lower back pain. This is because the cranium and the pelvis mirror each other in opposite directions, so if one is off, it will cause the other to be “off”. So eventually, patients with TMD or chronic TMJ pain may start developing unexplained lower back pain as a result of this dysfunctional postural mirroring.
In conjunction to addressing postural and skeletal alignment, NST will identify muscle imbalances due to the injury or dysfunction and provide work to return all working muscles back into balance. It also identifies the neurological and visceral loops that correspond to the injuries and pain sites, which reduces inflammation in any oppressed or referred organs as well as restores circulation and neuro-messaging throughout the body. Many patients also find themselves crying (or laughing) on the table as the metaphysical energies once trapped are now very quickly released.
NST patients always get more than what they ask for. It is a very integrative form of healing that will actually get the job done. And doner-er.