Understanding and Treating TMJ Disorder

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) occur because of a problem in the jaw joint and the surrounding muscles. This condition can lead to a variety of problems: headaches, ear pain and dental problems. If left untreated for a long period of time, TMJ disorder can lead to extreme muscle tightness in the jaw which can even change the look of your face.

The Causes

A skull showing the jaw.

Experts disagree on exactly what causes TMD, but most agree that the symptoms come about because of problems with the jaw or the muscles that surround it. Here are some other likely causes:

  • Stress- Stress can cause to tighten our facial muscles and/or clench our teeth.
  • Dislocation- A dislocation between the ball and socket of the jaw.
  • Grinding- Grinding teeth or clenching the jaw may lead to TMJ disorder.
  • Injury- An injury to the jaw, neck, or head.
  • Arthritis- Particularly rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

The Symptoms

TMD can be very mild or quite severe. The condition may be a temporary one that goes away on its own, or it can last for decades. It’s particularly common among women between the ages of 20 and 40. Symptoms include:

  • Morning headaches.
  • Pain in the face, jaw, ears, or neck.
  • Swelling along one side of the face.
  • A clicking or popping sound while eating.
  • Limited range of motion in the jaw.
  • Difficulty chewing or the feeling that your jaw isn’t lining up properly.
  • Jaws that “lock” open or closed.

Conservative Treatments

Most people who have TMD don’t require surgery or dental treatments. When it comes to your health, it’s usually best to exhaust all of the conservative options before moving onto more invasive ones. Here are some common treatments for TMJ disorder that provide relief without resorting to drugs or surgery:

  • Avoiding hard foods. If you have TMD, it may be best to lay off the ice cubes for a while. Overly hard foods can injure your jaw joint and make the condition worse.
  • Alternate between heat and cold. Apply an ice pack to your jaw for about 10 minutes and alternate with a warm towel or washcloth for five minutes.
  • Exercise. Talk to your chiropractic team or your dentist to find out if exercising your jaw can help relieve your pain.
  • Get an adjustment. Believe it or not, your doctor of chiropractic can perform therapeutic adjustments on your neck and jaw to bring about relief.

If your jaw pops a lot and you’re constantly fighting off a headache, you may have TMJ disorder. Talk to your chiropractor during your next visit to find out if you do. Your chiropractic team is qualified to diagnose and treat most conditions of the body and they can tell you what you need to do to start the healing process.


Always consult your chiropractor or primary care physician for all your health related advice.

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Photo credit: Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Steve Snodgrass

This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Corp (or its franchisees and affiliates). You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.