What is TMJ and what causes jaw pain?
“This is helping my TMJ!” exclaimed one of my patients while finishing his mechanical traction. Mechanical traction is one of the supportive rehabilitation procedures that our office utilizes to combat forward head posture and restore a proper neck curve. This particular patient, who has been a chiropractic patient of mine for years, has been a dentist in our community for about 50 years specializing in temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. I remember being so excited that he made the connection between forward head posture and the alignment of the jaw. After his realization, I promptly found some research articles to give him that validated head posture as a cause of TMJ dysfunction. He has been a great patient and chiropractic care advocate ever since!
The temporomandibular joint is a very common source of pain especially in people who are stressed. It is known to be caused by grinding your teeth at night and/or the clenching of the jaw. Now, scientists are discovering another cause: abnormal head posture. Even the Brigham and Women’s Physical Therapy website validates “postural dysfunction” as a cause for TMJ disorders. According to the TMJ Clinic website, Dr. John Summer describes the importance of the link between head posture and jaw function. He describes that most patients who have TMJ disorder also have forward head posture because of the spinal biomechanics which he demonstrates in the diagram below. The big block on the top represents the head and the small block represents the jaw with the person facing to the right. As shown in the diagram, forward head posture puts strain on the back of the neck as well as the muscles/ligaments that support the jaw. The normal posture has the muscles/ligaments in a neutral, healthy, symptom-free position.
In the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation in 2002, another study demonstrated a positive correlation between lateral bending of the neck and teeth clenching. This study concluded that imbalances of the sternocleidomastoid muscles, located in the anterior neck, causes a head tilt which in turns causes teeth clenching on the side of the tilt. Even worse, in the Journal of Orthodontics & Craniofacial Research in February 2008, the authors noted a correlation between head posture and osteoarthritis of the joint itself!
Now, add some stress to the picture. Basically, adding tension to already tight muscles can be unbearable. Stress can make neck tension and jaw pain even more severe and eventually turn into headaches. Imagine having tension on your neck and jaw muscles anyway due to poor posture and then adding emotional stress to them… yikes!
So how does Chiropractic Care help TMJ pain and disorders?
Corrective Chiropractic care can restore the proper alignment in the neck significantly decreasing the forward head posture and other postural distortions (ie. Head tilts) that attribute to TMJ and neck pain. Forward head posture, also called anterior head carriage, has been linked to many problems from general neck pain/headaches to respiratory issues. As seen in the diagram below, the more forward the head is the heavier it becomes due to physics. It would be like holding an object away from your body. The further the object is away from your center of mass, the heavier it becomes and harder it is to hold. As the head becomes heavier, the spine will actually deform causing a person to become shorter, joints to immobilize and eventually degenerate leading to osteoarthritis. This is also what causes rounded shoulders and a “hump” on the upper back/lower neck area of the spine.
Due to our computer-centric lifestyles, including texting on cell phones, chiropractors are seeing more people especially teens with forward head posture. Unfortunately, forward head posture is progressive meaning that it will not correct on its own and become more severe with time if left untreated. Specific chiropractic adjustments with spinal rehabilitation (exercises, traction, etc.) can correct forward head posture.
How do you know if you have forward head posture?
Have a friend, family member, or co-worker look at your posture from the side. Your ear should line up directly over your shoulder (see diagram above). If your ear is forward of your shoulder, you have forward head posture and it needs to be corrected. Correction of this posture could be the key to unlocking many symptoms which you face every day.
At Aligned for Life Chiropractic in Beverly, MA, we specialize in postural correction. We teach our patients how to avoid common lifestyle practices that attribute to forward head posture. We also give our patients specific spinal exercises and stretches to prevent further problems in their spine. Just remember, bad posture is progressive and can not be corrected solely by exercise. It would be like trying to brush and floss a cavity away. Bad posture is not genetic either. The sooner you start care, the easier it will be to correct. Start today and schedule a consultation!
- Brigham and Women’s Hospital Dept of Physical Therapy Website: http://www.brighamandwomens.org/Patients_Visitors/pcs/rehabilitationservices/Physical%20Therapy%20Standards%20of%20Care%20and%20Protocols/TMJ%20disorder.pdf
- Portland TMJ Clinic website: http://portlandtmjclinic.com/tmj-disorders/theroleofbodyposture.html
- Kibana, Y et al. (2002) “Occlusal Support and head posture” Journal of Oral Rehabilitation 29:1, pp 58-63.
- Loi, H et al. (2008) “Relationship of TMJ osteoarthritis / osteoarthrosis to head posture and dentofacial morphology” Orthodontics and Craniofacial Research 11:1, pp 8-16.