TMJ - Exercise and Diet Treatments
Explores associated disorders including plugged ears, fibromyalgia, neck pain and more.
TMJ is the commonly used acronym for temporomandibular joint disorder. The pain associated with TMJ is thought to be caused by displacement of the cartilage where the lower jaw connects to the skull causing pressure and stretching of the associated sensory nerves. I developed a very bad case of TMJ several years ago, along with an overall case of fibromyalgia. My jaw was so painful that I had to eat baby food at times.
In looking for a cure, I bought a lot of books and spent hours on online research. I went to see many different types of practitioners, including TMJ specialists, dentists, doctors, orthopedists, an acupuncturist, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, and more, in order to try to find a cure for my TMJ pain and overall fibromyalgia. Eventually it worked and now my pain is gone. The TMJ treatment options that helped me are listed below.
In my case, my jaw was where I really hurt, but it actually wasn't the source of my pain. The source of my pain was tight muscles from other parts of my body pulling on my jaw, causing pain and pulling it out of alignment. The practitioner who helped my TMJ the most was a physical therapist who specialized in ergonomics, posture training and body alignment. He looked at my body as a whole, and his treatment to improve my posture and body alignment helped me a lot. Below is a picture of how my body used to look when my TMJ pain was at it's worst. The dark circles are tension points with knotted muscles and the shaded lines are where my skin, nerves and muscles were being pulled taught between the tension points.
I realize now that there were a multitude of factors that contributed to my TMJ. My body alignment problems were one, but there were also other factors. These were:
I had a hereditary connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. TMJ is common in people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan syndrome or other connective tissue disorders. Besides TMJ, other common features of connective tissue disorders are mitral valve prolapse, hypermobile joints (also called being double jointed), myopia (nearsightedness), irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, pectus excavatum (sunken chests), scoliosis, hearing problems, anxiety disorders, heart palpitations, poor wound healing and bleeding problems. Some people, especially women, with connective tissue disorders have what is called a Marfan habitus or mitral valve prolapse syndrome. They are tall and thin with long arms and legs, scoliosis and/or a chest deformity such as pectus excavatum or pectus carinatum.
A study from Sweden found, "an association between joint hypermobility, abnormal skin connective tissue composition, mitral valve malfunction, and musculoskeletal disorders in young women with TMJ dysfunction, especially internal derangement." Basically, TMJ, hypermobility, defective connective tissue and MVP seems to occur together, either in people with defined connective tissue disorders such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or people in the general population with mild connective tissue abnormalities.
See my home page for more information on connective tissue disorders. I had most of the problems listed above and a lot more. I never knew they were all interrelated, or that there was a name for my health problems, until I was diagnosed by a rheumatologist with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. After my diagnosis, I started looking up things on the Internet and everything started to click. I put up this web site describing my health problems, what seemed to help me, and how I thought my symptoms were all logically interrelated and related to nutrition. Now I literally get hundreds of thousands of visitors a year from people with variations of many the same symptoms as I have had, including TMJ.
I also suspect that I had a problem with defective hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is also called Hyaluronan, or HA. Hyaluronic acid is a component of connective tissue that functions to cushion and lubricate various body parts. HA occurs throughout the body in abundant amounts in many of the places people with TMJ also have problems, such as other joints, eyes and heart valves. A study on PubMed showed that people with TMJ had abnormalities of hyaluronic acid compared to people without TMJ. Interestingly, one of the latest treatments for TMJ is injections of hyaluronic acid or oral supplements focused on improving hyaluronic acid.
Overuse of my hand on the side where I had TMJ was another contributing factor. I had TMJ on my right side where I used a computer mouse for hours at a time. I think the tightness caused from gripping the mouse all day tightened my muscles on that entire side of my body and contributed to my TMJ pain and fibromyalgia. My TMJ pain also developed after I had kids and spent a lot of time pushing baby strollers, so I think that was another contributing factor. I have two sons close in age, so when they were little I had two babies to take care of at one time. I would push both of them around in a very heavy, double stroller. I think the gripping and pushing action from pushing the stroller around tightened my hand and shoulder muscles and also contributed to my TMJ. To make things even worse, I used to purpose push their stroller uphill for exercise. In hindsight this tightened the muscles too much in the front of my shoulder on my right side. I know now I should have embarked on a more balanced program of stretching and strengthening.
I also suspect that I had a magnesium deficiency. As you can see from the chart below, many of the conditions that are linked to TMJ such as mitral valve prolapse and fibromyalgia are also linked to low levels of magnesium. Mg deficiencies can cause both tight muscles and defective connective tissue. One of the things that helped my MVP, fibromyalgia and TMJ was adding more foods rich in this important mineral to my diet.
According to the TMJ Association web site, the majority of TMJ patients are women in their childbearing years. Interestingly, most of the people who develop mitral valve prolapse and fibromyalgia are also women in their child bearing years. TMJ, fibromyalgia and mitral valve prolapse all commonly occur together, all occur primarily in women of child bearing age, and at least two of the three conditions (MVP and fibromyalgia) have been linked to magnesium deficiencies. Interestingly, excessive menstruation has been linked to magnesium deficiency, which may explain why women of childbearing age (menstruating women) then have more conditions linked to magnesium deficiency than the population in general.
Interestingly, magnesium is needed to make hyaluronic acid, so it is not surprising that conditions linked to magnesium deficiencies and conditions linked to hyaluronic acid abnormalities tend to go hand in hand. Besides TMJ, conditions where magnesium deficiency may play a role include fibromyalgia, keratoconus, nystagmus, insomnia, asthma, allergies, attention deficit disorder and migraine headaches. Headaches and TMJ commonly occur together. Many people believe the TMJ causes headaches, which seems highly plausible. However, since headaches are linked to magnesium deficiency, another possibility to consider is that TMJ and headaches are both manifestations of a common root cause--a magnesium deficiency.
There's a whole list of diet changes that I made to help my pain problems, including my TMJ, in my section on foods that helped my fibromyalgia. I've included a few of the diet changes here that I believe helped my TMJ the most below:
My kids have never had TMJ, but one has had neck pain and both children are prone to fibromyalgia. So this means I have three people to experiment on in our family to see what helps our pain problems. While exercises, posture training and yoga help a lot, the number one factor that influences whether we have joint and muscle problems or not on a given day seems to be our diet, especially the amount of magnesium rich foods we eat.
I also used to suffer from menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding) which I suspect was one of the reasons I was magnesium deficient. I was able to control my menorrhagia through changing my diet, which is written up in my section on Menorrhagia.
* I've gotten a number of emails from people questioning my intake of dietary fat and high cholesterol concerns. For more information on saturated fat and the health risks associated with low cholesterol levels, see my web page Low Cholesterol: The Overlooked Health Risks.
Besides the diet changes, the following environmental changes also helped to reduce my TMJ pain:
I bought extra sharp knives for chopping vegetables. We try to eat extra healthy so I make a lot of meals using fresh produce. Cutting fruits and vegetables frequently had been adding to my muscle tension on my hands and arms. With the extra sharp knives I didn't have to put as much pressure on my hands to cut things.
The best book I've found for jaw pain is Taking Control of TMJ. It is one of the few TMJ books that focuses on total body alignment, yoga and diet for temporomandibular joint disorder. The simplistic approach that many other TMJ books have seems to be that since a person's jaw is hurting, we'll have them do a lot of jaw and neck exercises. However, obvious solutions are often wrong. In my case, and I suspect many others, my jaw was where I had the most pain, but it wasn't the cause of my pain. Doing exercises only on my jaw just increased my pain because they pulled on already irritated muscles and didn't address the source of my pain.
This book has extensive information on body alignment, and it is the one of the few books I found that described what was really wrong with my body: tight muscles in other parts of my body that were pulling on my jaw and shoulder. As you can see from the picture above, I had one shoulder that was higher and one shoulder that slumped lower than the other. The side with the lower shoulder was where my jaw, ear and neck hurt. This was the source of my pain. The Taking Control of TMJ book addresses how to correct these types of problems with information on sleeping positions, diet changes to release tight muscles, posture tips to prevent imbalanced muscles and therapeutic yoga postures to reduce overall body and jaw tension.
The treatments that ended up helping my TMJ the most involved improving my overall posture and body alignment and loosening up my tight muscles. My TMJ pain came from tight muscles in my hands, shoulders and other parts of my body pulling on my jaw. I suspect that may be a cause of TMJ pain for other people, too.
TMJ impacts women of childbearing age more frequently than it effects other segments of the population. TMJ commonly occurs along with fibromyalgia, tinnitus, migraines, mitral valve prolapse and other conditions linked to magnesium deficiencies. A major factor in all of these associations may be that because magnesium gets depleted through the menstruation process, women of child bearing age are more likely to be at risk for conditions linked to a deficiency of this mineral.
Here's a recap of what helped me:
I don't know if these treatments
will help other people with TMJ, but they helped clear up my TMJ problem
completely. Most of these treatment ideas such as getting enough magnesium
in your diet, setting up your computer work station correctly, improving
your body alignment and doing gentle yoga poses are generally considered
low cost, low risk healthy things to do anyway, so they may be worth considering
if you suffer from TMJ pain.
Related sections of interest:
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