Suffering from Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) can add stress to your life—but stress can also influence or even trigger TMJ issues.
One of the toughest realities of having TMJ is that it is a multifactorial problem, meaning there are multiple triggers and causes of the disorder with many of them overlapping and influencing each other in a painful, self-perpetuating cycle.
Everyone has two temporomandibular joints—one on each side of their head. The joints connect the lower jaw to the skull, so it is integral to many daily processes, including chewing, talking, and yawning. Because of their regular use and prominence, damage to these joints can be life-altering and can happen just going about daily life.
Injury Related Causes of TMJ
Aside from issues that crop up due to aging, such as osteoporosis and arthritis, trauma is one of the most common causes of TMJ. Trauma can be divided into two subtypes: microtrauma and macrotrauma.
Microtrauma occurs the same way a river, over the years, splits a rock in two. Microtrauma comes from minor actions, which repeated over time wear down the cartilage and cause inflammation of the membranes surrounding the joint. The most common examples of these are bruxism (teeth grinding) and clenching (jaw tightening). While the occasional incident of either will not cause lasting damage, a long-term habit can lead to pain in either the joint or surrounding muscles and lead to a TMJ diagnosis.
Macro trauma, true to its name, is the result of one seriously damaging incident, such as a punch to the face. Athletes who participate in contact combat sports, especially boxers, often suffer from TMJ caused by macrotrauma, either from jaw dislocation or damage to the cartilage disc holding it in place. Macrotrauma that exacerbates TMJ can also happen due to an accident, or from prolonged dental work when the jaw is stretched open for extended periods.
Stress-Related TMJ Triggers
With microtrauma related causes of TMJ in mind, we ask why people perpetuate these harmful habits. The answer is simple to define, yet challenging to solve: stress. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching often manifest when people are under immense pressure.
How to Alleviate Stress and Injury Related TMJ Triggers
The application of heat and facial massage are easy solutions to help with TMJ pain. However, these will not always be enough. As stress is frequently a factor, stress-relieving activities such as yoga or meditation might help alleviate TMJ pain. It will not fix any underlying issues of teeth placement or cartilage wear, but it could help prevent an issue from getting worse.
Time is of the essence when faced with TMJ and other chronic pain problems. Using an at-home treatment kit such as Speed2Treat can mean the difference between short term discomfort and countless years and dollars spent trying to solve a painful problem.
Consulting a specialist, or possibly multiple specialists may be necessary to get to the root of the issue. Head, neck, and jaw pain can have a significant impact on your quality of life, so it is essential to take it seriously, whatever the cause. Don’t suffer unnecessarily, consult the directory on FaceMyPain to find a TMJ specialist near you.
Julia Worrall is a Registered Nurse with decades of experience in acute care. Noticing that early intervention is lacking when it comes to head, neck, and jaw pain, Julia determined to bridge the knowledge gap between multidisciplinary providers and ensure that patients receive appropriate care to avoid delayed recovery, chronic pain, and polypharmacy scenarios. Julia is a published author and highly sought after international lecturer.