Most people only think about TMJ flare-ups in terms of dental problems or food triggers. However, several other causes can lead to a worsening of symptoms.
One such cause is stress.
Can stress cause TMJ flare-ups?
Stress can cause TMJ flare-ups because your jaw is involved in your body’s physical response to psychological stress. These stress actions include jaw clenching and night-time teeth grinding, which contribute to temporomandibular joint disorder.
Let’s discuss the link between stress, anxiety, and TMJ dysfunction, as well as some tips for when stress starts to bite.
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge joint that connects your lower jaw (mandible) to your skull. It’s located on each side of your face, just in front of your ears. TMD is short for ‘temporomandibular disorder’. It means dysfunction of your TMJ, a chronic jaw joint condition.
What are TMJ flare-ups?
TMJ flare-ups are periods of time when the symptoms of TMD are worse than usual. These can be brought on by stress, teeth grinding (bruxism), jaw injury, and chewy or hard foods.
What is TMD?
When you have a temporomandibular disorder (TMD), it means there is a problem with how your temporomandibular joints and jaw muscles work together. TMD can cause pain in your jaw and face, neck pain, and shoulder muscle pain. You may also have clicking or popping sounds when you move your mouth, and your jaw may feel “locked” or stuck.
The underlying causes of TMD can be from many factors, from purely dental issues to hormonal changes, bad posture, or constant clenching (hypertonicity) of the jaw and facial muscles.
What is the link between stress and TMJ?
Stress levels are higher in people with TMJ problems . Chronic pain and anxiety disorders are also risk factors for TMD. This is because chronic pain can lead to muscle tension, while anxiety and stress disorders can cause clenching or grinding of the teeth.
With the stress of covid-19, many of us have the early stages of common TMJ symptoms, like general jaw pain, popping of the jaw, and chronic neck tightness.
Working from home can promote poor posture, leading to painful symptoms and even more stress! It’s no wonder TMJ issues arise from this underlying psychological cause.
If you have pain in the left side of your neck and shoulder together, read our full guide where we list 9 common causes.
How are TMJ disorders diagnosed?
TMJ disorders are diagnosed by medical or complementary health professionals through a combination of a physical examination and a review of your medical history. Often, the signs of stress-induced TMJ disorder are found during routine dental work, or at physical therapy.
Your practitioner will feel for tenderness in the muscles around your jaw and check for any clicking or popping sounds when you move your mouth.
TMJ flare up symptoms
- difficulty or jaw pain with chewing
- clicking, popping, or grinding sounds when you move your jaw
- locking of your jaw
- pain in your temples or behind your ears
- neck pain
The TMJ is a complex joint, with powerful neurological input to your brain. Therefore you can also experience:
weird symptoms of tmj
- tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- sore muscles in your face or neck
- pain behind your eyes
How are TMJ disorders treated?
Treatment for TMJ flare-ups typically includes over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin, ice packs to reduce swelling, and jaw exercises. In severe cases, you may need to see a doctor or dentist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Inside the TMJ is a cartilage disc. This disc is prone to damage with prolonged jaw joint problems.
Severe TMJ pain
If you have severe pain, the TMJ cartilage disc may have become deranged. You may require
- a mouth guard for the night time to help with bruxism
- botox therapy to alleviate jaw clenching
- jaw surgery with a maxillofacial surgeon
How long do TMJ flare-ups last?
TMJ flare-ups usually last for 2-5 days, or up to a few weeks. If your flare-ups are frequent, it’s important to see a doctor. If stress and anxiety are making your TMD worse, your flare-ups may be more frequent.
What are some ways to relieve TMJ pain?
The good news is that the best way to treat your TMJ flare-up is with physical therapy unless your symptoms are severe and require dental work or TMJ surgery. Treatments include:
- Massage: Massage reduces muscle tension and can be performed on the jaw, face, and neck
- Chiropractic jaw treatment and spine adjustment: releasing the pterygoid and temporalis muscles can have a positive impact on TMD episodes.
- Jaw exercises: Exercise your jaw muscles by opening your mouth gently and paying attention to where the tension is. Ask your dentist or TMJ specialist about the specifics.
There are several things you can do to manage stress-related TMD symptoms, like relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. These help reduce stress and the muscle tension in your jaw.
We created this gentle yoga sequence for people with shoulder pain. You will also find these positions helpful for reducing stress from jaw issues.
What has been your experience with stress and TMJ episodes? Comment below to let others know they’re not alone
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Mood and anxiety psychopathology and temporomandibular disorder: a spectrum approach D Manfredini , A Bandettini di Poggio, E Cantini, L Dell’Osso, M Bosco