A recent study by the Mayo Clinic reveals that jaw pain associated with the temporomandibular joint (or TMJ) can often be caused or contributed to by poor spinal posture. The study found that the pressure on the jaw from the angle in which we hold our heads of the head often can worsen TMJ symptoms.
According to the study, the human head, which weighs between 8-12 pounds, can quickly add around 27 pounds of pressure to the spine when bent just 15 degrees forward. Known as ‘tech neck,’ because many of us hold our heads at these unnatural angles while on the computer or checking our phones, that number leaps to 61 pounds of pressure on your spine, simply by bending your head 60 degrees forward. This in turn puts head and jaw, increasing the strain on your TMJ. In addition to pain, this pressure can cause the popping and clicking sound some experience when chewing.
The findings present some promising new ideas in how to treat and prevent TMJ. Whereas in the past, TMJ treatment typically involved either bite splints, botox or in more severe cases, medications or surgery, the connection between posture and TMJ opens the door to some new, less invasive treatment options.
Even if you’re not ready to seek treatment for your TMJ, or if you already are receiving treatment and would like to maximize the benefits of that treatment plan, Dr. Stephen Hill of Allen, TX says there are many things you can do at work and home to help alleviate some of the symptoms of TMJ and improve your overall body posture. He recommends trying to hold your jaw at a neutral position, without clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth. Also, limit your screen time on phones and computers. If you must look at your phone try to hold it up so your neck isn’t bent forward.
While computer use is often unavoidable, Dr. Hill recommends adjusting your monitor and chair so that your head is properly aligned and not tilted downwards for extended periods of time. Says Hill, "These tips alone may not cure your TMJ, but they can help to lessen the severity of symptoms." If minor posture adjustments aren’t enough, there is still hope. According Dr. Hill "The posture modifications by the Mayo clinic study are easy enough to do at home, but should still be done under the supervision of a dentist. In addition to posture corrections, your dentist can show you that work specifically on your jaw muscles." Dr. Hill also cautions that if you are experiencing any kind of dental or jaw pain, it’s important to be seen by a dentist to rule out any potentially serious conditions with similar symptoms to TMJ.