When you’re in regular pain it’s easy to reach for a bottle of Advil.
When you have TMJ pain you know that won’t cut it.
You need something better. Stronger. More effective than painkillers for TMJ.
Narcotics are incredibly effective at reducing temporomandibular joint disorder pain, but can cause serious addiction issues and carry a plethora of health risks.
You’ve already faced enough of those.
Distraction and TMJ pain management
As I’ve mentioned before distraction is a highly effective tool in pain management.
I’ve already talked about it twice as part of our personal journey.
Distraction is the most effective tool we have for reducing TMJ pain and symptoms.
Studies on distraction and its use in pain management support our experience.
Any time you find a resource that talks about pain management that can be applied to TMJ: use it.
Get to it before I do.
Then send it to me.
Because my wife needs it. This isn’t a competition.
What is Distraction?
Distraction is a technique in the loosest sense of the term. Your goal is to distract yourself from your pain.
That sounds fucking impossible.
Have you felt that pain?
I haven’t. But I see the pain my wife is in, and I don’t want any part of it.
So I go back to that scrappy hunter attitude: I will take any advantage I can get.
Pain is exponential. Reducing a little pain over a long period of time nets huge results in happiness and comfort.
Think about it: a little headache for an hour isn’t a big deal but a little headache for a week has you punching every sound in the universe.
So use distraction. Get yourself every little edge you can.
Distract yourself from your pain, and that will help you build more “pain free” days.
Distraction means shifting or moving your attention away. It does not mean that the pain is no longer there. – ACI Health Pain Management Network
Effective distraction isn’t about the moment
Don’t get lost in the bullshit.
Everyone talks about distractions but no one tells you what that means.
Sure, you can think of activities and hobbies as distractions but as I’ve mentioned before: experiences are the best distractions from pain.
Hobbies, such as painting and crafts, tend to happen in small chunks. You can pick them up and put them down in an hour.
That’s not enough time.
Activities are better, but you have to choose the right activity and the good ones need to be planned.
That doesn’t help you right now.
Build an experience to distract from your TMJ pain
Using your hobbies you can discover activities that interest you. Then you build an experience around that activity.
My wife is beautiful, brilliant, and creative. She loves photography, arts, crafts, other artsy things that I don’t have the right brain glands for, etc..
So when we plan distractions we draw from that.
I don’t just hand her a bunch of yarn and tell her to knit her pain away.
Knitting is one of her favorite hobbies, she can put it down any time, and it requires focus. It sounds like an ideal distraction, right?
Focus is impossible in that much pain. Being able to put it down easily means that pain can easily distract her from her distraction.
TMJ pain beats that every time.
That’s no good.
Experiences offer the best distraction from TMJ symptoms
So you build an experience.
No longer are you just knitting your heart out, you are going to a free crafting class at the art store to learn how to knit beanies.
This isn’t about your TMJ pain, this is about you having a good time learning to knit beanies.
An experience requires planning, but that planning tends to be fun. Looking for a good crafting class is exciting if you like crafts.
The anticipation of the class helps distract you for days in advance.
The class itself takes enough of your brainpower to distract you, but not so much that you’re thinking through pain.
It’s active enough that you’re moving around, which helps distract you as you use your brain to balance, knit, walk and talk.
You can do it with a partner to help boost distraction, and boost the benefit leading up to the experience.
In fact: having another person with you, that you want to be with, can boost the benefits of distraction many times.
What are some ideas for effective distraction from TMJ pain?
I don’t have a good long list of ideas. This isn’t that kind of article. When I write one, I will link it here.
Instead what I have is our favorite technique.
This is my preferred distraction method, use it directly if you like it.
If you don’t like it: try to understand my goals with each piece, and adapt it as necessary.
There is a method to the madness and if you follow the method you should find a highly effective distraction plan for your TMJ.
I’m not going to keep telling you how creative my wife is.
That’s a lie.
I will probably say it all the time on here just like I do in real life.
She’s amazing. If there’s only one thing you take from this website, take that.
But then also take the tips, they are solid gold.
She loves photography. Nature, still life, portraits, everything. She’s really great at it, has an amazing eye for color and detail, and doesn’t over edit her final shots.
Her TMJ symptoms are easily manageable the day before and the day of a photo shoot she’s looking forward to.
The low barrier to entry for photo sessions means this can be planned on a whim. We use smartphone cameras and public spaces, all we need is ourselves.
If she’s having a bad day we pop out for a quick photo session.
If she’s had a few bad days I talk to her about her next photo session. Get her excited about a new concept and goal. Let her dream up her dreams. And while she does that I help plan where we will go, when we will go, and how we’re going to get the shots she wants.
The planning process lightly distracts her from TMJ pain for days.
The photo shoot itself highly distracts her for several hours.
The editing process highly distracts her for hours to days.
How can you build an experience to distract you from TMJ pain?
Think through your hobbies. Really think through all the things you like to do with your free time. What excites you? Use that.
An experience is more than just an activity. It’s more than just a hobby. It’s the whole surrounding scenario.
Your best bet is to start with something you know you already enjoy doing, or really want to try, and look for events in your area.
Once you start finding those events you should be able to sign up for some, but also use them as inspiration.
Can you replicate an event that sounds cool, but just for you or a small group?
Case Studies: Hot Air Balloons, Ice Skating, and TMJ pain results
Locally there is an annual hot air balloon event in town. A ton of hot air balloons get together in a field and lift off. People come from all over to watch them, and it’s beautiful.
That’s an activity.
My wife loves hot air balloons.
We built an experience out of attending the hot air balloon events at dawn, sunset, and during the day. Pictures were taken (her hobby), we were at the event (the activity), but the experience was everything else we added to it.
Her TMJ pain was so manageable that she forgot to take her medicine until we got home.
Another time I built an experience of a hot air balloon ride.
Photos were taken, of course. But we weren’t there as a “taking pictures” activity.
We were there as an experience that we wanted pictures of.
Her TMJ pain was easily manageable that day.
I had never ice skated, and she wanted pictures of us ice skating.
We didn’t go to take pictures.
And we didn’t go to watch me fall on my butt.
Instead we went to experience ice skating together, and we got a ton of fantastic photos. No one saw me fall on my butt, though.
Her TMJ pain was virtually nonexistent for days.
Tips for building a distracting pain management experience
I know I’m bad at explaining how to do things. Here’s a list of the tips I keep in mind when trying to distract my wife from her TMJ symptoms.
- Low impact exercise
- Not only does light exercise help reduce TMJ pain in general, light exercise helps distract the mind. Something as light as meandering around a park looking at hot air balloons is enough to get the blood moving.
- Try not to do something that will be low impact but high exertion, too much muscle stress will increase your pain.
- Mentally engaging
- You have to strike the right balance for your current pain level. Puzzles are great for minor pain, impossible under the tension and inflammation caused by TMJ.
- Crafting and arts tend to fit the mold here.
- Flexible Planning
- Photography is our go-to, and it allows us to plan as little or as much as we need for quick relief
- You can’t always have something planned
- You can’t build most experiences the same day
- If you find an experience you can effectively build and execute in a day, it’s a keeper!
Distraction, TMJ, and YOU
In conclusion: if you are looking for a way to help manage your TMJ pain – add distraction to your toolkit.
- Distraction is the technique of focusing your mind on something other than your TMJ pain.
- Effective distraction requires you to strike a balance between your focus and your pain.
- The most effective distractions are experiences that can help for days surrounding the experience.
Distraction is easily the most valuable resource I have at my disposal.
It’s low cost, no risk, and doesn’t cause negative side effects!
Plus: it’s a tool that helps my wife live a life she’s happy with. Not just a life where she’s “not currently in pain.”
And that’s worth the entire fucking world to me.
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