TMJ is an abbreviation that many people use for disorders that affect the temporomandibular joint and the muscles that control your jaw movement. The temporomandibular joint is situated on both sides of your head in front of your ears, where your lower jawbone meets your skull. Overuse, often caused by bruxism, stress, or teeth grinding, can lead to pain and inflammation in this joint. Here’s how you can tell if you’re suffering from TMJ and how to perform a TMJ massage to reduce your pain.

Do I have TMJ? 

Temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD is more commonly referred to as simply TMJ after the joint itself. This is the joint that connects your mandible, or lower jaw, to your skull just under your ears. Problems with this joint or the muscles in the face can lead to pain in this area. An injury that affects the lower jaw, such as whiplash, can be one cause as well as grinding of the teeth, the soft cushion in the joint moving, arthritis, or stress.

The major symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Jaw pain or stiffness
  • Difficulty or discomfort while chewing
  • Popping, clicking, or grating sounds with jaw movement, which may or may not be painful
  • Locking of the jaw that makes it difficult to open or close the mouth

People may also experience symptoms that appear to be totally unrelated to the jaw, but are actually related. These symptoms can include:

  • TMJ headaches (over the eye, in the temples, behind the eyes, and at the base of the skull)
  • Facial pain and swelling
  • TMJ ear pain and other symptoms, including ringing, buzzing, and congestion
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Difficulty opening the mouth wide
  • Tired facial muscles
  • Trouble chewing or pain while chewing
  • Top and bottom teeth not fitting together properly

While you may experience multiple signs or symptoms of TMJ, it’s not uncommon to exhibit a single symptom like earache or headaches.

How many people suffer from TMJ?

TMJ is more common for women than men and seems to affect more people between the ages of 20 and 40. The condition causes extreme discomfort and pain that can become chronic if not addressed.

According to the dental division of the National Institutes of Health, it is unknown how many people actually suffer from TMJ. It is believed that it affects over ten million people in the United States. Many of the cases go unreported as it is considered a minor nuisance rather than an extreme chronic pain condition and people who experience some of the more minor symptoms may choose to ignore it.

For patients who do experience extreme pain and discomfort from the effects of TMJ, there are some non-invasive techniques that can provide relief.

Do I have TMJ headaches?

Many TMJ sufferers will experience headaches. If you clench or grind your jaw, an overactive temporalis muscle may give rise to pain and tension, particularly in the temples. This headache can also radiate outwards and give rise to a sensation that can feel like your head being held in a ‘vice-like grip.’

You may also experience a dull, achy, throbbing headache that’s present on waking in the morning or that increases as the day progresses.

Likewise, TMJ pain can be a trigger for migraines. It may also lead to chronic headaches in a patient with a prior history of migraines or headaches. Migraine headaches will often radiate to the face, jaw, and even the teeth. These headaches are characterized by hypersensitivity to light, sound and smells. Generally these patients will go to a quiet dark room and prefer to sleep. There may be associated nausea and even vomiting.