TMJ Ear Pain

TMJ ear pain is frequently a natural progression of TMJ disorder. As I explain on our Pain Relief for TMJ page on this site, this disorder can become an issue three different ways, through dislocation of the disc in the joint, dislocation of the joint itself and extremely tight muscles causing

too much pressure on the joint. The jaw joint is complicated and surrounded by a number of muscles attaching to different aspects of the jaw, which can create a terrible amount of pressure on that joint. When TMJ neck pain, TMJ ear pain or TMJ jaw pain becomes evident, it can be from a trauma such as a blow to the jaw, or head or a whiplash. Mine became increasingly worse with braces, and continued to progress for years, with no obvious injury, until I learned some basic steps to open up the muscles around my jaw.

The pain shooting into the ear with this disorder can be acute and sharp when chewing or moving your jaw, or achy and constant from pressure from the muscles around the ear.

Some of the things that can exacerbate the pressure around the TMJ joint, as well as the TMJ ear pain are: chewing particularly chewy foods (gum, bagels, etc), sleeping on your side or belly (putting pressure on the joint directly), chronic forward head posture while at the computer (creating tension in attaching muscles), driving or other activities, clenching or grinding your teeth, tension in the muscles of the neck.

The core reasons as to why these habits make the TMJ ear pain worse is related to the increasing pressure of tight muscles and other tissue that decrease the space within the joint. This issue comes up in various points in the body. For instance, if our knees hurt, often it can be attributed to some of the really strong leg muscles compressing the area in the joint. The quads, hamstrings, IT Band, calf muscles and a few other small muscles cross the knee and can cause all kinds of trouble. In the instance of TMJ pressure, which can also manifest in the ear or along the jaw line, there are muscles that can cause an immense amount of pressure in the joint that are also responsible for chewing. They are above the ear, in the cheek and inside your mouth. When these are overly tight, they can create persistent pressure and possibly pain into different areas in the head and ear.

Sleeping position can make TMJ ear pain much worse, in addition to any clenching or grinding you may do at night. The sleeping positions that are sinister will create pressure directly on the joint, or push the lower part of your jaw to one side or another. The only position that will truly allow the jaw to remain neutral will be sleeping on your back...with a neck roll, as opposed to a big pillow. I know, this is not an ideal position...but it makes a huge difference with alleviating chronic neck and jaw issues.

When you use a huge pillow, it pushes your head forward into a position that strains the upper neck muscles in the back, which causes pressure into the jaw as well, by shortening some of the muscles on the front of the neck. Our typical sleeping arrangements in our modern beds with huge, fluffy pillows are far from ideal for folks who suffer from chronic upper back, neck or jaw issues.

Often when we speak with clients about their sleeping positions, they will report a decrease in headaches, TMJ pain and neck pain after a week or two. Yes, it really makes that much of a difference. AND if you also have a hard time with shoulder pain, that is a VERY common problem that can be alleviated, if not completely resolved by sleeping on your back, and doing some stretches, which are the same stretches we suggest to our clients for pain under shoulder blades.

The primary things we suggest to our clients, whether the TMJ disorder is disc, joint or muscle related, is to work on the muscles to take the pressure off the joint. We also use some specific cold and hot therapy, to loosen the muscles with the heat and reduce any inflammation in the TMJ joint that may be causing the TMJ ear pain.

When working with any joint in the body, it's a good idea to reduce inflammation, while reducing pressure on the joint, by reducing the tension in surrounding muscles. They all work together, after all, and can cause dysfunction and pain one way or the other...the muscles too tight can dislocate the joint, the joint gets dislocated, the muscles around the joint can go into spasm to guard the joint. SO, work on both, and sometimes we can help the entire cycle to relax and heal.

When my TMJ pain flares, I massage the muscles that cross over the joint, and sometimes apply heat to those that are just chronically tight. Then I apply a gel ice pack to the joint, to diminish any inflammation directly around the joint, which is very close to the ear.

The one group of muscles that are hard to work on, particularly if you haven't worked them before are the pterygoid muscles. They are inside your mouth. If you go to a clinical massage therapist, like we are, they will usually have been trained to work these for you. We use gloves, and address the specific muscles that are often involved in helping with pain relief for TMJ. The common comment we get with this work, other than that it isn't very fun, is that the clients feel a tremendous difference in the pressure in their jaw. There was a singer who had TMJ work in our clinic who said was able to open her mouth normally after a session, which she felt had been restricted for over a year. Another client commented after TMJ specialized work that it helped her headaches and pressure in her ears.

All the muscles that affect the neck, throat, ears and sinus cavities are very closely related, so it is common for this kind of work to also help ears to become 'unplugged' that have been muffled for a time, or have sinus congestion released.

Some of the muscle work on the outside muscles related to the TMJ muscles is taught on our Couples Massage Video, which is available for instant download, on the right column. Having your partner or friend do some work on your neck, head and jaw can help so much to alleviate the tension related to TMJ ear pain.

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