Osteopathic approach to dysfunction of the Jaw (Temporomandibular joint or TMJ)

13 June 2018

Osteopathic approach to dysfunction of the Jaw (Temporomandibular joint or TMJ) Jaw dysfunction is said to affect about 40% of the population at some point!! Many people who suffer from such seemingly disparate syndromes as headaches, earaches, tenderness of the jaw muscles, or dull, aching facial pain often share a common problem; they all suffer from what is known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. It's also interesting to consider that studies have confirmed that between 87-97% of whiplash injuries from road traffic accidents involve the TMJ as well as the neck. Osteopaths always take a person as a whole into account (a holistic approach) when treating them, and this is essential when dealing with jaw problems. Stress has been implicated as the most important causative factor; so it stands to reason that if the patients problem can be successfully managed by their Osteopath, stress levels will decrease and this will consequently aid the healing process. Win win!
It's not always easy to discover the cause (or the factors that may be stopping resolution) of the TMJ problem, due to the inevitable complexity of the area. It's important to rule out other possible causes such as sinus problems, dental conditions, and systemic problems such as fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus etc. Osteopaths do attempt to identify all the factors in the patient's life that may be contributing to the problem, as well as any event that set the problem off in the first place. These may include: 
  • Dental problems (malocclusion ie. poor bite, non-replacement of missing teeth, past dental surgery, any opening of the jaw for a prolonged period (a big yawn), poorly fitting or worn out dentures) 
  • Injuries (whiplash, a blow to the head, face or jaw)
  • Habits (bad posture, oral habits ie. chewing pencil end or grinding teeth under stress, thumb sucking as a child, poor diet or eating habits, heavy lifting which may strain neck or back)
  • Stress (may be due to home life, recent stressful event(s), financial worries, work difficulties, litigation, divorce, death of a loved one etc.)
  • Emotional issues (depression, anger, anxiety, frustration, fear, unrelieved stress)
As well as addressing and treating any musculoskeletal dysfunction that is contributing to the TMJ problem, we as Osteopaths also look to achieve re-establishment of normal posture (including advising on any necessary stretching/strengthening exercises), give instruction on breathing techniques, give nutritional advice, and talk about relaxation and stress management techniques which are also really important. The key to any dysfunction is to prevent rather than continue to treat symptomatically. A great deal can be achieved by eliminating harmful oral, postural and nutritional habits which all put strain on the TMJ and surrounding muscles.
As patients are often anxious about pain and its cause, open communication can serve to soothe anxiety. Psychosocial factors, particularly coping strategies, cannot be ignored in the management of jaw dysfunction. If we feel that a differently qualified practitioner could help the patient more, referral is deemed necessary. For example, Osteopathic treatments and Psychotherapy sessions may complement each other and ensure that the patient recovers more effectively and quickly.
If you feel that you could benefit from Osteopathic intervention for this or any other musculoskeletal problem, please call Laura or Philip at Backinhealth on 02082038977.

Tags: headache, holistic, TMJ, Osteopathy, Jaw pain

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