Our clinic is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado which means we are at an average altitude of 6,035ft elevation. Many of our patients find that their headaches are accompanied by ear pain and jaw pain, especially after travelling home from another state at a lower elevation. High altitudes can exacerbate temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder symptoms – like jaw popping or stiffness, ,jaw and face pain, difficulty chewing, problems opening or closing your mouth, grinding at night, and even earaches – so if you are experiencing these symptoms while living in Colorado, you are not alone. Some estimates suggest that TMJ disorders affect over 10 million Americans!
So what can be done about jaw pain? Are there alternatives other than medicating the pain away and avoiding travel? Thankfully, the answer is yes! Manual physical therapy for jaw pain is a safe and effective treatment for TMJ disorders and associated headaches and neck pain.
A proper examination will include an evaluation of the neck and the movement between C1 and C2 (the top two vertebrae in the neck) as they are positioned near the ears and jaw hinges. You can imagine that if these bones aren’t moving properly, the muscles acting on the joints to move them will become irritated and inflamed. This tension affects the way the TMJ moves, especially since two joints have to work together to get one movement.
Your physical therapist will also look at the 3 main muscles around the joint. These muscles can be treated with myofascial release and contract relax techniques to help improve mouth opening. There’s a quick test you can do to see if your mouth opening is close to “normal” – it’s called the 3 knuckle test. Bend your middle 3 fingers and see if you can place them between your teeth. If you are unable to or feel a lot of tension, you may have some TMJ tension issues that should be worked out.
So, what does this mean if you suffer from headaches or migraines accompanied by jaw pain, or even just ear and jaw discomfort on it’s own? Your TMJ should be properly evaluated to ensure all potential factors are taken into account. As physical therapists here at Novera: Headache Center, we will assess your mobility and the muscles controlling the movement and restore proper function. If we feel we need to involve a dentist who specializes in TMJ and mouth splints to have the best results, we will most certainly do that as we work with several in the area. If this sounds like you, give us a call at 719-598-1010. We offer free 30 minute Discovery Visits to see if we are able to help you get back to thriving in your life!