Does your jaw ever feel tight from clenching or grinding?  Does your jaw ever feel painful on one side or both?  Does your jaw ever “click” “pop” or “lock”?  Or does your jaw just feel “off” ?  If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you may be showing signs & symptoms of TMJ syndrome.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome is defined as “pain & tenderness due to a dysfunction of the TMJ or surrounding musculature & soft tissue.”1 

According to Vizniak, contributing author and editor of the ‘Evidence-Informed Orthopedic Conditions’ textbook, 10-25% of the population have some symptoms of TMJ syndrome, with the highest incidence being in young adults age 20-40, and 3 times more prevalence in females than males.1

Below is a comprehensive list of the common signs, symptoms, causes, risk factors, behaviors to avoid, and treatment for those suffering from TMJ syndrome.

Signs & symptoms of TMJ syndrome:

-Jaw or facial pain (80%), pain with mastication1

-Locking, clicking or catching with motion, limited ROM, grinding & popping1  

-Headache, earache (30%) & neck pain.  Past head, neck or facial trauma (whiplash)1

-Pain in and around the ear, often spreading to the face

-Tenderness of the jaw muscles 

-Difficulty opening the mouth

-Jaws that get stuck, lock or “go out”

-Pain from yawning, chewing, or opening the mouth widely

-Any problem that prevents the complex system of muscles, bones, ligaments, and joints from harmoniously working together may create a TMJ disorder2

Some common causes of TMJ syndrome2:

-Motor Vehicle Accidents (MVA’s)

-injuries to the jaw, head or neck

-disease such as arthritis;

-clenching and grinding the teeth 

-other causes include:  sports injuries, physical abuse, difficult labour or birth (to the baby), work-related injuries, silicone implants (i.e. breast or jaw, etc), and physical, mental and/or emotional stress, and dental work

Risk factors & potential causes1:

-TMJ synovitis or disc derangement 

-Hyper/Hypomobile TMJ

-Bruxism (grinding teeth), jaw muscle spasm

-Trauma (MVA), psychosocial stress

-Poorly fitting dentures, dental issues, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis

A note about bruxism and clenching: 

“There is normally 4-10 minutes a day of normal chewing (occlusal contact) with functional occlusal forces rarely exceeding 80 psi on the teeth.  Parafunctional forces (not normal chewing and eating) occur from 1-4 hours per day at 300- 1000 psi.  As far as tooth wear and tear is concerned, one night of bruxism is worth a lifetime of chewing”.2

Eating, chewing, and other behaviours to avoid or be mindful of for TMJ syndrome2:

-Hyperextending the jaw such as in large sandwiches (cut food into small pieces, or excessively wide yawning

-Resting your chin or cheek in the palm of your hand

-biting hard foods like apples, ice cubes and candies

-eating, reading, or watching TV in bed

-Chewing gum (can result in trigger points)

-holding the phone between the ear and the shoulder

-Avoid chewing on one side; distribute food evenly on both sides of the mouth when eating to avoid pressure on one TMJ

-improper or constant posture, such as sitting at a desk or computer, lifting heavy objects and when exercising

-Clenching and grinding; keep the jaw relaxed while exercising and lifting or straining

Treatment for TMJ syndrome:

Massage therapy & other forms of relaxation therapy can be very effective in providing symptom relief.  Modalities such as myofascial release (MFR), trigger point release, as well as Swedish massage can be very effective for treating the external musculature of mastication.  Intra-oral massage (where the practitioner wears gloves and provides gentle release) to the deeper muscles of mastication can also be highly effective as a treatment for TMJ syndrome. ART techniques and chiropractic treatment can also provide relief.2

If you are experiencing TMJ related pain and/or dysfunction and need specific care and guidance, talk to one of our experienced practitioners at Evolve Wellness Centre.  Your care will include assessment, treatment, as well as remedial exercises for self-management.

Remember… be kind to your jaw 🙂

  1. Vizniak, Nikita A., et al. Evidence Informed Orthopedic Conditions: 300+ Patient Centred Principles and Best Practices. Professional Health Systems Inc., 2022.
  2. Robert Hackwood, Dynamic Therapies

DISCLAIMER: These posts should not be used to self-diagnose or self-treat any health, medical, physical or psychiatric condition. Information shared via posts does not replace professional healthcare advice specific to your condition and needs. If you are unsure whether you would benefit from implementing tools discussed in these posts, please contact your healthcare provider.