Active & injury free: Pop…pop…ow! All about jaw pain

By Dr. Tom Cotter

This isn’t someone that just had bubble gum pop in their face. This is someone with TMJ Dysfunction (TMD). TMD is pain and/or popping in one’s jaw joint. TMD is very common. It is actually more common than neck pain — and in several cases it is the cause of neck pain.

Dr. Tom Cotter and Dr. Jeff Remsburg

The reason it is so common is due to its inherent instability. The jaw joint consists of two rounded bones sitting on top of each other, similar to a golf ball balancing on top of another golf ball. This is made more stable by a biconcave disc in between and the surrounding musculature. The disc itself has no nerve endings, so it can be compressed as much as needed while chewing. If the musculature is kept in balance, this is a wonderful design.

It’s when a few of these muscles become tight or weak that the biomechanics are thrown off. The jaw bone gets pulled too far in one direction or the other. It will start to pop off and on the disc when chewing or talking. That is where the popping sound comes from.

Many people who experience this don’t worry about it because they don’t feel any pain with it at first. If this continues though, it will flatten out the disc that gives the joint stability. A flattened disc gets pulled around more than it should. The tissues that hold the disc in place are highly innervated — that is, they have a lot of nerve fibers. When the disc gets pulled too far, the nerve fibers start getting compressed during chewing or talking. The nerve fibers don’t tolerate compression well and therefore incredible pain ensues. The good news is 90 percent of people are easily treated. It is a team effort between the doctor and the patient.

Treatment starts by taking a look at daily habits that might be causing problems such as chewing gum or clenching ones teeth. After that myofascial release is performed on muscles with trigger points. Tight muscles are stretched and weak muscles are strengthened. Finally a “resting” position for the jaw is taught to the patient.

TMD/TMJ is a rough disorder to live with, but if you are willing to take a team approach, we can help you get past it.

This weekly sponsored post is written by Dr. Tom Cotter and Dr. Jeff Remsburg of Active Health Solutions, a Prairie Village-based chiropractor and rehab practice that uses the most current evidence-based protocols and techniques to assess and treat patients with neuromusculoskeletal conditions (disorders of the nerves, joints, and muscles). Call 913-341-1200 or email to schedule your appointment today.