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Why does my jaw hurt?

Does this sound familiar? Well, approximately 1 in 8 people will experience a jaw problem, leading to jaw pain.

Your jaw (mandible) bone meets the temporal bone adjacent to the ear. Put your hands on your face in front of your ears and open your mouth, can you feel your jaw move. This is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and is controlled by the muscles of mastication (chewing) and facial expression, in 12% of people the joint itself becomes the source of pain.

Your jaw movement initiates the digestive cycle by breaking down food to create energy. To chew our body generates a substantial force repeatedly for this to occur. When we talk and use body language we also activate similar facial muscles to create sound shape and expressions, which can lead to muscles becoming tight if asymmetries exist in our anatomy and habits for example eating on one side.

Where the mandible attaches both left and right there can be asymmetrical differences explaining why one side of the jaw is symptomatic whilst the other is not. These asymmetries may be present from birth or acquired based on trauma and muscle use. The muscles of the face can also be separated into left and right by the side of the face they are located and similarly can become imbalanced due to jaw positioning, muscle strain, injury and overuse. Like with all other joints of the body age related changes occur at the TMJ, and give rise to pain and clicking. These arthritic changes can be accelerated by our habits and pressure the muscle load exerts on the TMJ.

Grinding is unrelated to function of the jaw, it is not essential for eating or talking to occur. Although grinding is a physical action the cause is often due to stress and/or anxiety and can happen with conscious awareness in the day and subconsciously as we sleep. When we grind we tense our jaw muscles and add to their load, which often results in a sore jaw, but can also result in limited opening capacity over time. Grinding alongside other forms of minor trauma to the jaw can contribute to the presents of arthritis at the TMJ.

The masseter and temporalis muscles are easily accessible to the clinician and respond well to Osteopathic treatment. Direct work on and around the TMJ can be done to improve mobility and general jaw function.

For more information on the treatment of jaw pain and Osteopathy in West Berkshire get in touch to find out more.

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