Jaw pain and jaw popping are common symptoms of what’s called TMJ, or Temporomandibular joint disorder. Now, TMJ can be very closely linked to trigger points in your jaw muscles, and the reason why is clear when you look at how the jaw joint works.
The jaw joint is one of the most complex in the body and certainly gets a lot of use in talking, eating, drinking and breathing.
There is something unique in the jaw joint. It has a small piece of cartilage that flips back and forwards to take up the extra room in the joint that’s created when you open and close your mouth.
There is just one muscle – the lateral pterygoid – which attaches to cartilage within the joint. It is vital for the proper functioning of this joint. So when you have problems they often occur when this muscle is not moving the cartilage correctly.
The cartilage can get stuck and this will cause the joint to lock. It may not move smoothly and become caught in its path, which causes the popping sensation or noise as you open your jaw.
So there’s a piece of cartilage that needs to move smoothly for your jaw to function. That’s one issue. But there’s more to it than that.
The jaw moves in 3 dimensions – up, down, forward and back. We use it a lot, and each movement on the one side of the jaw needs to be perfectly mirrored on the other side.
So with all this complexity of movement, you need a number of muscles to control the joint and they all need to dance together with a fluid complex rhythm.
The main jaw muscles are: (You can find these muscles – using the Trigger Point Finder.)
All these muscles need to work together in harmony for your jaw to work properly.
When you do find you have jaw pain, it could very well be referred pain from trigger points in the jaw muscles. It can manifest as jaw pain, ear pain, cheek pain. Problems in your jaw joint can also cause you difficulty when you chew, or open and close your mouth.
Another strong link between TMJ and jaw muscle triggers is bruxism – constant chewing or grinding your teeth. This occurs often in your sleep. It puts a lot of strain both on your jaw joint and on the muscles that control it.
It’s important here to work on finding natural movement. When you have a popping jaw, the temptation is to play with it – keep popping it.
Find the path of movement where it doesn’t pop, and stick to that. Our muscles are very good at adjusting for smooth movement, provided we give them the right commands.
Work on relaxing your jaw whenever possible. Become aware of your movements – especially the ones that used to be unconscious.
Treat triggers where you can find them, and do gentle stretches. Putting soft heat (like a towel wrapped hot water bottle or wheat bag ) on your jaw before you go to bed can also be helpful – relaxing your muscles before sleep.
If you wish to learn more about how to diagnose and treat these trigger points – you might want to check out my Trigger Point Course.