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TMJ Discomfort: What Causes It?

Hint: The source of your pain
may not have anything to do with your jaw


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This is an illustration of how tension in other parts of my body caused my TMJ pain and jaw popping.

The lightly shaded circle is where I felt my jaw pain, the darker circles are the areas that were causing the pain.

TMJ, Pain and Muscle Tension

TMJ is a disorder traditionally treated by dentists because it occurs in the jaw. This assumes that the pain originates in same place where it hurts, which I don't think is always true. In my case I had a low shoulder on the side with the TMJ, and a thoracic outlet syndrome on the sites with the high shoulder. I had tension points in my high, left shoulder and under my low left shoulder. This caused my temporomandibular joint to be pulled out of place from muscular tension in my body. The muscles around my jaw on my right side were being pulled to the left from the overdeveloped muscles in my left shoulder. My jaw was also being pulled downward as well from from tight muscles under my right arm pit.

How To Raise Up a Low Shoulder

If, like me, your pain is from one lower shoulder pulling on your jaw, yoga can help. woman stretching to one side I found it helpful to simply overstretch in the opposite direction, so that the low shoulder is now higher.

There was a muscular, triangular tug of war going on in my body and my right jaw and my temporomandibular joint were on the losing side. While treatments like heat packs and self massage were great short term remedies, the only good long term solution was really to get my body in better balance through yoga and improved posture to bring my right shoulder up and my left shoulder down. And it actually gets more complicated than that, because my left shoulder was being pulled down because of knots in my left calf. Doctors and dentists often treat people like they are cars with defective parts that can be damaged, removed and treated in isolation to the other body parts, but I suspect that in reality we are all more stacked like a house of cards or a game of dominoes, with the position of each component being held into place by the surrounding components.

I don't know if other people have TMJ problems caused by a low shoulder, but based on my email I suspect many cases of temporomandibular joint disorder are indeed caused by muscle tension in other parts of the body pulling on the jaw.

Physical Therapy for TMJ

The first physical therapist I went to for TMJ was a very nice person and well intentioned, but he just had me doing exercises to loosen up my jaw and the muscles around it, which only made matters worse. By loosening my jaw muscles, it just transferred more tension in the direction of the arrows as shown in the above illustration, which in the long term just made my muscle imbalance worse and worse. For awhile I kept religiously doing the exercises he prescribed, even though my condition was deteriorating. I initially reasoned that he was an "expert" on the subject and must know what he was doing. In reality though, he really didn't have a clue as to what was really wrong with me, or most likely any of his other patients, either. So one bit of advice I have for any one else seeking medical advice would be to be wary of self proclaimed experts in TMJ.

He even had me do an exercise that involved pushing my finger up under my tongue on a regular basis to loosen up the muscles in my mouth. In hindsight, all it did was make my tongue sore and made my family wondered if I'd lost my sanity since I was walking around sticking my finger into my tongue all day.

I don't think this physical therapist really had a big picture view of what was wrong with me. Eventually I found a more body alignment savvy physical therapist, plus the book Taking Control of TMJ, by Dr. Robert O. Upguarrd. Dr. Upguarrd recommends an exercise program for TMJ that includes stretches and exercises for the whole body, since "the whole body in involved in TMJ disorder." This kind of advice ended up actually helping me.

Note: If you have one low shoulder, you may also have scoliosis. It is hard for your spine to be straight if your shoulders are uneven. Like TMJ, scoliosis impacts mainly females of reproductive age. If we consider nutritional deficiencies as a possible cause, there are many logical reasons that women of child bearing age tend to get scoliosis (as well as TMJ) more frequently than other segments of the population.





Next page:

TMJ: Diet and Exercise Treatment - covers the many factors that played a role on my recovery from temporomandibular joint disorder pain.


Related sections of interest:

Natural Treatments for Fibromyalgia

My Personal Causes of Neck Pain

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Defined

What Causes TMJ?

Finding a Good Physical Therapist


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