10 Of The Best Approaches To TMJ Pain Treatment – Pain Doctor (2023)

If you suffer from pain or stiffness in the jaw, neck, or ears, you could have TMJ disorder. A TMJ pain treatment approach includes a number of methods, incorporating everything from at-home care to more interventional techniques, like physical therapy, medications, mouth guards, or even surgery.

What causes TMJ pain?

You may hear TMJ referred to in a number of ways. The letters “TMJ” themselves abbreviate “TemporoMandibular Joint” but have often been used to refer to disorders in this region of the jaw. Technically TMJ disorder or TMD is the more correct way to refer to this condition.

No matter what it’s called, TMJ/TMD refers to a disorder of the jaw muscles or joint. Your jaw connects to your skull with a ball and socket joint. Within this sits just a small disc of cartilage that cushions the load. This joint allows you talk freely, eat, and open your mouth. But, since it’s used so frequently, it’s vulnerable to constant wear and tear. This stress can lead to damage, swelling, and other abnormalities at the joint juncture.

This damage can cause TMJ symptoms, which include:

  • Pain and soreness in the jaw, head, neck, shoulders, or ears
  • Clicking, grinding, or popping sensations when you open and close your jaw
  • Locked jaw
  • Swelling in the jaw and face
  • A suddenly uncomfortable bite that feels “misaligned”
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
  • Toothaches

Common causes of TMJ pain include:

  • Trauma to the mouth or jaw
  • Excessive teeth grinding, or bruxism
  • Improper bite
  • Excessive gum chewing
  • Arthritis
  • Stress

TMJ is more often found in women, especially those between the ages of 18-44. Genetics play a small role in TMJ risk, as does accompanying pain conditions. For example, people with fibromyalgia and sleep apnea experience a greater incidence of TMJ pain.

10 Of The Best Approaches To TMJ Pain Treatment – Pain Doctor (1)

What can I do for TMJ pain?

If you suffer from TMJ pain, you’ve likely lived for a long time with clicking while eating or an achy jaw when you wake up in the morning. Your pain may flare up during higher stress times, or it may become worse during winter. Or, for others, it might have come on suddenly.

No matter how TMJ affects you, there are ways to manage it. Often symptoms will gradually disappear on their own.

TMJ pain treatment ranges from at-home care to surgery for severe cases. For most patients, at-home care with some gentle stretching can significantly help relieve pain and reduce symptoms. If you’re suffering from moderate to severe pain, however, it’s important to talk to a TMJ specialist before attempting any of these treatments. They can diagnose the exact cause of your pain, and suggest personalized treatment options.

Diagnosing TMJ pain

Since they spend the most time in your mouth, typically a TMJ dentist will diagnose your condition. She’ll perform a physical exam, checking for pain, tenderness, and clicking.

A TMJ specialist can also use imaging scans to diagnose this condition. These may include X-rays, MRI, or CT scans. A TMJ arthroscopy can also be used. Mayo Clinic explains: “During TMJ arthroscopy, your doctor inserts a small thin tube (cannula) into the joint space, and a small camera (arthroscope) is then inserted to view the area and to help determine a diagnosis.”

(Video) 10 Best TMJ Exercises to Stop Pain in Your Jaw. (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder)

Other specialists can also diagnose TMJ, such as your:

  • Primary care physician
  • Pain specialist
  • Oral surgeon
  • Orthodontist
  • Ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT)
  • Neurologist

TMJ pain treatment approaches

Once you’ve confirmed that you’re suffering from TMJ, there are a number of treatments you can use to relieve your symptoms. As the American Dental Association notes, it’s always best to start with simpler TMJ pain treatment approaches and progress from there. Many people will find effective pain relief from modifying a few at-home activities and practicing stress management.

TMJ pain treatments include:

  1. At-home care, including rest, cold/hot therapy, and posture correction
  2. Exercises and stretches
  3. Massage (solo or by a partner)
  4. Stress management techniques
  5. Dental devices, mouth guards, or oral splints
  6. Physical therapy
  7. Medications, including muscle relaxants
  8. TENS unit therapy
  9. Injections, including Botulinum or corticosteroid
  10. Surgery, either arthroscopic or open-joint, for severe cases

TMJ home treatment

For small flare-ups, start by icing your jaw if the injury is more acute and recent (say, from trauma or excessive grinding), or apply a warm, moist compress to release your muscles. You can also take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain.

Also look to your office set-up and posture. Dr. Mark Burhenne explains: “slouching can push your lower jaw forward, putting stress on the TMJ. This often happens with people who spend many hours at a desk.”

During a flare-up, you should also rest your jaw byby avoiding any strenuous chewing. Avoid hard, crunchy foods or really chewy food (like taffy). Cut your food into smaller pieces. WebMD recommends a number of soft foods you can try as well, like:

  • Yogurt
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Cottage cheese
  • Soup
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Fish
  • Cookedfruits and vegetables
  • Beans and grains

With a restful period of warm, moist compresses and relaxed eating, you can help resolve a majority of your TMJ pain.

TMJ pain relief exercises and stretches

If you’re suffering from TMJ, simple exercises can also help you alleviate your pain. The following video goes over three TMJ pain relief exercises to start with. You can do these in just a few minutes at home. We also discuss more stretches you can do in our recent post on TMJ and ear pain.

These stretches help relieve tension, while TMJ exercises can strengthen the muscles of the jaw. Healthlinehereshares additional TMJ exercises.Your doctor or physical therapist can also recommend additional stretches to try for TMJ pain relief.

TMJ massage

If you’re already stretching and exercising the joint, massage is a natural fit. Many find relief from simple day-end TMJ massages, either done solo or by a partner.

For a self-massage, the TMJ Association recommends:

(Video) TMJ Pain Relief with Simple Exercises & Stretches - Ask Doctor Jo

“Several times a day, open your mouth, then rub the muscles by the ears near your temporomandibular joints. Place your forefingers on the sore areas, and swirl them around, pressing gently, until the muscle relaxes. Close your mouth and repeat the massage. With a clean forefinger, reach in your mouth until you can feel the sore muscles that are inside. Pressing firmly with your forefinger, massage one side, then the other, getting as close to the joints as you can. Finally, massage the muscles on the sides of your neck. Those muscles don’t directly control your jaw, but by massaging them you help to reduce tension that contributes to jaw pain.”

Stress management techniques

One of the most important parts of TMJ pain treatment is reducing your stress. We hold a lot of tension in our jaws, with continued stress leading to increased rates of damage.

Massage can go a long ways towards reducing stress, but there are other techniques you can practice on a daily basis. To help control stress, incorporate any of the following into your routine:

  • Biofeedback
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Using essential oils to refocus and relax
  • Acupuncture

Stress management doesn’t have to be complex either. Simply sitting and focusing on your breath for ten deep and full breaths a few times a day can help relieve tension around the jaw.

TMJ mouth guards and other dental devices

The go-to treatment for many TMJ sufferers is with dental devices, such as mouth guards and splints, which is a custom-fitted guard worn over the teeth. While this TMJ pain treatment can work in more moderate cases, for shorter periods of time, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research cautions:

“Stabilization splints are the most widely used treatments for TMJ disorders. Studies of their effectiveness in providing pain relief, however, have been inconclusive. If a stabilization splint is recommended, it should be used only for a short time and shouldnotcause permanent changes in the bite. If a splint causes or increases pain, or affects your bite, stop using it and see your health care provider.”

Similarly, if you’re also suffering from sleep apnea, wearing a mouth guard could make your night-time teeth grinding even worse.

Instead, many TMJ dentists are looking at ways to restore your mouth’s proper occlusion, or bite. A well-balanced bite puts less stress on your jaw, and can help you stop grinding your teeth at night. Because of this, some dentists recommend short-term guards or splints, bridges, braces to correct alignment, including Invisalign braces for adults.

Physical therapy

A physical therapist provides structured support and guidance with more severe cases of TMJ disorders. They’ll coach you through more advanced stretches and exercises to restore movement in the jaw and reduce pain.

Medications for TMJ

As eMedicineHealth explains, a number of medications can help with TMJ pain treatment (depending on the root cause of your symptoms).Under the supervision of your doctor, you may try:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications to reduce stress
  • Muscle relaxants

These should never be a first-line treatment, but they can help in more severe cases. Note that doctors who only prescribe pain medications aren’t working to address the root cause of the issue. These may have to be used in conjunction with other treatments, while undergoing physical therapy for example, but should never be your sole treatment approach.

10 Of The Best Approaches To TMJ Pain Treatment – Pain Doctor (2)

(Video) Best TMJ Self-Treatment to STOP Pain Fast!

TMJ injections

Many are beginning to turn to injections for managing moderate to severe TMJ pain.Botulinum injectionsare increasingly used to treat migraine pain, and are being found to relieve the underlying muscle spasms that can cause TMJ pain. While there hasn’t been enough solid evidence yet on Botulinum for TMJ, more studies are in development.

Likewise, some TMJ specialists use corticosteroid injections into the joint itself to reduce inflammation and provide TMJ pain relief.

What do they do for TMJ surgery?

The final TMJ pain treatment approach is surgery. The majority of patients should not undergo surgery, as it’s often unwarranted and may not work for the majority of patients. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research itself explains that:

“Surgical treatments are controversial, often irreversible, and should be avoided where possible. There have been no long-term clinical trials to study the safety and effectiveness of surgical treatments for TMJ disorders. Nor are there standards to identify people who would most likely benefit from surgery. Failure to respond to conservative treatments, for example, does not automatically mean that surgery is necessary. If surgery is recommended, be sure to have the doctor explain to you, in words you can understand, the reason for the treatment, the risks involved, and other types of treatment that may be available.”

If you do need to undergo surgery, after all other treatments have failed, there are less-invasive options.The Mayo Clinic explains that in an arthroscopic procedure: “asmall thin tube (cannula) is placed into the joint space, an arthroscope is then inserted, and small surgical instruments are used for surgery.” A full open-joint surgery is used in as few cases as possible, but can allow a surgeon better ability to repair or replace a severely damaged joint.

What should I do to get TMJ pain relief?

Your TMJ pain treatment approach will ultimately depend on the severity of your pain, the length of your symptoms, and the underlying cause of your pain.

TMJ pain relief exercises and at-home strategies will often go a long way towards reducing pain. Other treatments like physical therapy, massage, or relaxation techniques are a welcome addition to any routine, and can be especially beneficial for patients.

Newer treatment approaches, like Botulinum for TMJ and TENs unit therapy, promise to help patients relieve pain without invasive surgery. Other options like Invisalign braces or mouth guards can help correct dental abnormalities leading to disorders in the jaw.

If you’re suffering from TMJ, your most important first step is talking to a specialist about your TMJ pain treatment options. They’ll be able to discuss them in-depth with you, and talk about strategies you can start now to get pain relief in the future. To find a pain specialist in your area, click the button below to get started.

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(Video) TMJ Pain Relief - 3 Ways to Self Treat

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FAQs

What helps excruciating TMJ pain? ›

Management and Treatment
  1. Apply moist heat or cold packs. Apply an ice pack to the side of your face and temple area for about 10 minutes for acute pain. ...
  2. Eat soft foods. ...
  3. Take medications. ...
  4. Wear a splint or night guard. ...
  5. Undergo corrective dental treatments. ...
  6. Avoid extreme jaw movements.
21 Jun 2021

Which doctor is best for TMJ treatment? ›

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons (OMS) are an example of professionals who specialize in treating diseases associated with the head and neck, which includes TMJ disorders. These surgeons focus specifically on the muscles, joints, and ligaments in the maxillofacial region.

How can I fix my TMJ without surgery? ›

If your jaw disorder is related to a misalignment, your pain specialist or dentist may recommend physical therapy for the jaw area, orthodontic treatment, such as a jaw splint, braces, or a TMJ retainer. These jaw treatments can realign your smile for a more comfortable bite which, in turn, can address your symptoms.

How do you permanently cure TMJ naturally? ›

Jaw exercises are some of the most effective ways to relieve TMJ tightness and even cure TMJ permanently. They help strengthen the jaw muscles, increase jaw mobility, reduce jaw clicking and promote jaw healing. They also help stretch and relax the jaw.

What is the best muscle relaxer for TMJ? ›

An example of a muscle relaxant used for TMJ disorders is diazepam (eg, Valium). Tricyclic anti-depressants can help relieve pain caused by a TMJ disorder.

What can the ER do for TMJ pain? ›

If you go to an ER with TMD symptoms, they may be able to give you pain medication or a muscle relaxer to temporarily relieve your symptoms, but they will not be able to offer treatment for your underlying problem.

Is TMJ a medical or dental problem? ›

TMJ Disorders Can Be Both Medical and Dental Problems

Arthritis is another medical condition that can lead to a TMJ disorder. However, TMJ disorders can also be a dental problem by nature, especially when it is caused by an underlying problem with a person's teeth.

Can TMJ cause neurological problems? ›

As it courses posteriorly to the condylar head of the TMJ, compression, injury or irritation of the AT nerve can lead to significant neurologic and neuro-muscular disorders, including Tourette's syndrome,Torticolli, gait or balance disorders and Parkinson's disease.

Is there physical therapy for TMJ? ›

Physical therapy can be a helpful modality of care. A certified TMD physical therapist can help determine the cause of your pain and can improve the way your jaw moves. A physical therapist uses non-invasive treatments to decrease your pain and help restore the natural movement of your jaw.

What deficiencies cause TMJ? ›

Magnesium. Magnesium deficiency can lead to tense, spastic muscles. It also contributes to bone strength, nerve function, and cartilage health. In combination with calcium, these two supplements can work together to help relax your jaw muscles and relieve your TMJs of excess strain and tension.

What makes TMJ pain worse? ›

Grinding your teeth is a surefire way to increase TMJ pain. Get to work on breaking this bad habit ASAP. Otherwise, you could cause significant damage to your teeth, in addition to worsening your jaw pain. For many patients, wearing a mouthguard at night is helpful in stopping the grinding.

How do you massage TMJ? ›

Place 2 to 3 fingers on the muscles below your cheek bones. If you clench your teeth, you should feel the muscles tighten under those fingers. Press into the muscles and hold that pressure for 6 to 10 seconds. Keep your jaw relaxed and repeat in another tender or tight area of your cheek.

When is surgery needed for TMJ? ›

Your doctor may recommend TMJ surgery if: You feel consistent, intense pain or tenderness when you open or close your mouth. You can't open or close your mouth all the way. You have trouble eating or drinking because of jaw pain or immobility.

Can a chiropractor fix TMJ? ›

If you're wondering, “does seeing a chiropractor help with TMJ?” then we have some good news for you. Not only does chiropractic treatment for TMJ help ease the pain when you visit a chiropractor but you can also do some soft tissue work at home to help loosen up your jaw muscles and reduce pain.

Can heat make TMJ worse? ›

The cold constricts blood vessels and decreases circulation to the inflamed jaw area. Using a cold compress or ice pack on a strained jaw muscle can also numb pain in the area. On the other hand, heat can make jaw inflammation significantly worse.

What is better for TMJ heat or ice? ›

If you find that you experience swelling and inflammation, cold temperatures will be a more effective treatment. However, if your jaw pain stems from muscle pain or stiffness, heat will be a better option.

Can Xanax help TMJ pain? ›

Anti-anxiety medications such as alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan) help relieve the stress that may aggravate TMJ disorders. Always consult with a medical expert who can determine if anti-anxiety medication may be an appropriate treatment to meet your needs.

Can TMJ cause excruciating pain? ›

Jaw pain can be excruciating – especially when you don't know the cause. In many cases, facial and jaw pain is related to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the hinge-like joint between your upper and lower jawbones. TMJ disorders occur when this joint isn't working properly.

Can TMJ affect your vision? ›

Blurred vision – Much in the same way that TMD can cause hearing problems, the disorder can also result in vision issues. Inflamed nerves behind the eyes can lead to blurred vision, eye twitches, and light sensitivity.

How do you realign your jaw? ›

Some possible treatment options include:
  1. Orthodontic therapy to realign your teeth with braces. ...
  2. Wearing occlusal or bite appliances to try to relax the muscles and joint so you can reestablish your bite at the right levels.
  3. Special surgery to cut the jaws and realign them back into place.
8 Sept 2009

What makes TMJ pain worse? ›

Grinding your teeth is a surefire way to increase TMJ pain. Get to work on breaking this bad habit ASAP. Otherwise, you could cause significant damage to your teeth, in addition to worsening your jaw pain. For many patients, wearing a mouthguard at night is helpful in stopping the grinding.

Is TMJ a medical or dental problem? ›

TMJ Disorders Can Be Both Medical and Dental Problems

Arthritis is another medical condition that can lead to a TMJ disorder. However, TMJ disorders can also be a dental problem by nature, especially when it is caused by an underlying problem with a person's teeth.

How long do TMJ flare ups last? ›

Most flare-ups last anywhere from two days to a few weeks. Symptoms of a TMJ flare-up can include one or more of the following: Pain in and around the jaw joint – constant or intermittent. Headaches.

What does a TMJ flare up feel like? ›

muscle spasms that may include eye, cheek or neck twitching; facial swelling around the TMJ; tightness in the jaw, which can limit your range of motion or manifest itself as lock jaw where your jaw is unable to move until the joint is realigned by a professional.

When is surgery recommended for TMJ? ›

Your doctor may recommend TMJ surgery if: You feel consistent, intense pain or tenderness when you open or close your mouth. You can't open or close your mouth all the way. You have trouble eating or drinking because of jaw pain or immobility.

Can massage make TMJ worse? ›

Can A Massage Make TMJ Worse? Massage may make the symptoms of any jaw pain worse if the jaw pain is due to an infection. We strongly recommend that prior to visiting a Physical Therapist for treatment for TMJ or any type of jaw pain that you consult with your physician / dentist first.

What does an oral surgeon do for TMJ? ›

During the surgery, an oral surgeon will make an incision into the skin. Once the jaw joint is exposed, the surgeon will either replace, repair, or reposition the articular disc of the joint. The oral surgeon may see fit to remove the articular disc from the joint should the disc be damaged beyond repair.

How does TMJ affect entire body? ›

It's all connected.

Even a slight imbalance in your TMJ (jaw joints) can leave you suffering from headaches, nausea, dizziness, poor body posture, premature wearing of your teeth, decreased strength and flexibility, compromised breathing airways, muscles soreness and tenderness and many more symptoms.

Can you get SSI for TMJ? ›

If your TMJ is severe enough that it affects your ability to work, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Does TMJ show up on xray? ›

Conventional radiographs have a limited role in evaluation of the TMJ. They can be used to evaluate only the bony elements of the TMJ. They do not give useful information when it comes to the non-bony elements such as cartilage or adjacent soft tissues.

How long does TMJ surgery last? ›

The surgery may last between one to two hours. The recovery is significantly longer (3-8 weeks) and more painful than the TMJ Arthrocentesis or TMJ Arthroscopy.

How do you massage TMJ? ›

Place 2 to 3 fingers on the muscles below your cheek bones. If you clench your teeth, you should feel the muscles tighten under those fingers. Press into the muscles and hold that pressure for 6 to 10 seconds. Keep your jaw relaxed and repeat in another tender or tight area of your cheek.

Can TMJ affect your neck and shoulder? ›

When TMJ problems occur, they may cause a painful condition called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). TMD pain is felt in the jaw joints and can spread to the associated system of facial muscles, tendons, and nerves, as well as to your neck, shoulders, and even your lower back.

Can TMJ affect your ears? ›

TMJ disorders can cause pain in the ears as well as pain in the jaw, neck and shoulders. It's comforting for most patients to learn that TMJ ear pain is very treatable.

Where is TMJ pain felt? ›

TMJ disorders — a type of temporomandibular disorder or TMD — can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.

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