I’m a TMJ specialist. Patients often tell me that they’ve been told that there is no treatment for TMJ problems and that they will struggle with this problem for the rest of their lives. To the contrary! TMJ problems like all other orthopedic problems are common and treatable.
We have many types of specific treatments for TMJ in the office, but there are also a number of home therapies that have shown to be rather beneficial for the vast majority of TMJ sufferers. Whether your TMJ problem is focused in the jaw muscles, the jaw hinges (the temporomandibular joints), or the associated tendons and ligaments, the basic principles used to treat all orthopedic problems apply.
Rest, support, medication, and rehabilitation are often the key ingredients to success. Though only some jaw related problems require professional care, ALL TMJ problems require home care strategies to achieve the goals of pain elimination and restoration of function. What follows is a thorough list of home care strategies for overcoming TMJ pain.
15 Home Therapies for TMJ Sufferers
1) Apply heat over tender muscles and apply cold over tender joints. At times, my patients choose to cool with ice packs first over both the muscles and joints for 5 minutes and then follow with heat for 15 minutes. This can be repeated several times a day.
2) Avoid overuse of jaw activities and behavior that fatigues the jaw muscles. This is critical to achieve healing. Overuse activities include gum chewing, nail & cuticle biting, biting on pens, pencils, straws, ice, plastic items, eyeglass frames; the list goes on.
3) Avoid clenching your teeth during the daytime. For techniques to help you overcome this behavior, click here.
4) Avoid cradling your phone between your shoulder and neck and try to reduce the amount of time you are texting. Your head in a forward posture for lengths of time wreaks havoc on your neck and jaw muscles.
5) Apply pain-soothing gels over the jaw, neck muscles, and jaw joints. These may include BenGay, Aspercreme, Biofreeze, but many other preparations are available in the local pharmacy. (Note: some of these products contain menthol, arnica, aspirin, and other anti-inflammatory ingredients so make sure you are not allergic or sensitive to these products.)
6) Try TENS stimulation. TENS is a form of muscle stimulation that can help reduce spasm, muscle tension, and relieve pain. TENS devices can now be found on the Internet, but be advised as they do require instruction in order to be used safely.
7) Muscle massage techniques can be used over the temporalis muscle and masseter muscle (which is the big muscle that bulges when you clench your teeth). These muscles can be rubbed and massaged as you would for a sore calf or thigh muscle, applying enough force to be uncomfortable but not too much force that your eyes tear. This can be done for 2-3 minutes 3-4 times a day and the best place to do it is in the shower. There are a number of YouTube videos you can watch to help guide your technique.
8) Avoid hard, large, tough, and/or chewy food. I don’t recommend a mushy diet but rather a thoughtful diet. If you experience pain during or after a meal, you probably ate the wrong food.
9) Minimize caffeine intake (even chocolate) and nicotine use.
10) Abstain from drinking alcohol close to bedtime hours as it leads to restless sleep.
11) Hydrate with a good amount of water throughout the entire day.
12) Try your best to get 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night.
13) Avoid electronic stimulation prior to going to bed. Your cellphone, laptop, and other various devices can all negatively affect your sleep cycle.
14) Exercise routinely, at least a few times throughout the course of the week, to build endorphins and reduce daily stress. Endorphins are our bodies’ natural painkillers.
15) Practice diaphragmatic breathing or even meditate during the day to slow the number of breaths you take per minute.
Certainly you may need more directions of care, as every patient is unique, but these ideas, if pursued consistently, will surely provide some relief or buy some time until you are able to see the proper medical professional. If any of these recommended techniques increase your pain or aggravate your jaw in any way, they should be discontinued immediately.
Dr. Donald Tanenbaum is a specialist with offices in New York City and Long Island, NY. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat facial pain associated with jaw problems, TMJ, referred pain,nerve pain, and migraines. Find out more at www.tanenbaumtmj.com.