As I’ve said before, I don’t have TMJ, but my wife does.
I started this site as a way to help her with her TMJ disorder by learning how to help others.
I wanted to keep track of the things that worked for us and share them, because there are so many duplicated articles about it on the internet.
Getting people to help with TMJ disorder is difficult. They don’t take it seriously or don’t understand how to actually help.
Whether your loved one is in pain right now or not you can use these tips to help them manage their TMJ disorder.
What is TMJ Disorder?
The TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, is the joint responsible for movements in the jaw. When damage or injury occurs to this joint and its surrounding support structures it becomes incredibly painful to move your jaw.
Frequently the ‘injury’ to the joint is actually stress put on the joint by bad posture, teeth grinding from stress, and other habits that stress your jaw, face, and neck.
TMJD pain is usually accompanied by swelling of the facial tissues (especially in the cheeks) and incredible tightness of the jaw muscles. Sometimes an audible click is heard when opening or closing their jaw, which may or may not feel painful.
For some people TMJ Disorder is temporary, related to dental work they need, recent activity, or stress they are under.
For many people, however, TMJ Disorder is just a part of life. My wife is one of those people.
Who has TMJ?
It’s estimated that between 5% and 12% of the population suffers from TMJ disorder.
Women are twice as likely to experience symptoms (possibly caused by hormonal imbalances according to medcentertmj.com).
Unlike most chronic pain conditions: young people are more likely to experience recurring symptoms than older people.
Anyone can get TMJ Disorder, and you likely know at least one person who has it already.
How is TMJ Disorder Treated?
Treatment depends on the cause. Most doctors and dentists will attempt minimally invasive techniques before moving on to invasive ones like surgery.
Splints to help correctly position the jaw are the most common treatment for TMJ disorder. For advice on managing your splint, check out this article by docbraces.com.
Other treatments include physical therapy, pain medications (prescription and OTC), heat pads, ice packs, massage, stretches, and meditative exercises.
Most treatment plans combine multiple treatments to maximize efficacy.
As an example: massages don’t remove pain, but a proper massage can relieve the tension causing pain in your shoulders, neck, back, and face.
Even if you don’t suffer from TMJ that’s a tactic you can use yourself.
Pain is a symptom and if you treat its causes you can treat your pain.
3 Ways to Help with TMJ Disorder
When you don’t have TMJ disorder it can be difficult to understand how to be supportive.
It’s okay, that’s natural. It can be scary not knowing how to help someone through terrible pain.
What I try to do is just remember the following guidelines and forgive myself when I goof up.
3. Don’t be “that” person
It’s tempting to go research everything you can about TMJ and try to help people by sharing what you’ve learned.
I am guilty of this probably all the time.
Unless someone is asking you, or has told you they’d love to know, you should work from the position that they know more than you.
Not because they do, but because they do for their pain.
Learn that information.
Arm yourself with knowledge.
Be prepared for any questions they might ask.
But wait until they ask.
Assuming they don’t know basic things about their own condition is a bit presumptuous, don’t you think?
That means don’t give them helpful suggestions like “eat soft foods for a week” unless they ask for helpful suggestions.
It means you shouldn’t blurt out that their terrible posture is probably causing their jaw pain. I can assure you, everyone else has told them that too.
Just be there for them, ready to assist should the need arise.
2. Help track their symptoms
I don’t mean you need to keep a notebook whenever you go out with your friend to keep detailed stats on their symptoms.
Unless they’d like that. I would. Most people wouldn’t.
I mean you should help them pay attention to when their pain is the worst. What were they doing? What have they eaten? Have they been chewing gum? Exercising? Arguing?
In the moment it feels unimportant to know why you’re in pain so keeping track of that pain is not their focus. They need out of the pain.
But in the future how will they know what to avoid? What risks to take?
If you keep mental (or physical) notes about it you can help them remember what to avoid in the future.
That’s worth a lot.
1. Be there for them
Sometimes they will just want to tell you about their pain.
Don’t try to solve it, just listen. Be there for them.
Hear them out without asking too many questions.
Allow them to communicate in whatever way they can that they are in pain.
Commiserate, distract, support.
Chronic pain conditions leave people feeling isolated, misunderstood, and alone.
They ruin entire weeks with debilitating pain.
Friends and family stop inviting them places, because it’s no fun to hang out with someone in that much pain.
It’s no fun not being able to help them get back to themselves.
But that’s where you’re their best help.
Being there for them and helping them remember there is life outside their pain.
Helping people with TMJ
Helping people with TMJ Disorder, or other chronic pain conditions, requires you to set your own ego aside.
But you do so in order to help your loved ones live their life.
You’re not there to support them out of their pain.
You’re there to support them through their pain and into their life.
Support their dreams, not just their day to day pain levels.
Encourage their growth even when they feel useless and unworthy.
Be there for them. They need you.