Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can be a major source of pain and discomfort for those suffering from the disorder. TMJ has been linked to migraines, facial pain, as well as neck and shoulder pain due to the interconnectivity of the nerves running along the temporomandibular joint and the cooperative action of muscles in the head, neck, and shoulders. While treatment from a specialist is recommended overall for TMJ, for some people it appears that TMJ pain can be managed at home with the use of heat.
How Heat Helps With Pain
Typically we associate the use of heat packs with sore muscles and backs. Applying heat to a painful area has been used for centuries as an effective way to manage pain. Why is this exactly? Heat works in a few different ways. It blocks the transmission of pain signals from your sensory receptors to your brain. Heat is also good for injuries because it promotes blood flow to the injured area which increases the rate that nutrients are delivered to that particular spot on the body.
In regards to TMJ specifically, a study has indicated that in addition to changes in harmful oral habits (like grinding teeth for example), stretching of face and neck muscles, and joint exercises “the heat was proven to bring benefits such as pain relief, reduced muscle tension, improved jaw functions and increased mouth opening.”
Seek Professional Care
It is very important to mention that applying heat and things like joint exercises are not always enough to successfully treat TMJ. Often you must also consult a TMJ dentist who can help put you on the correct treatment plan (such as a dental appliance). Unguided at home treatment alone could potentially make the disorder worse, amplifying pain and discomfort. If pain persists for more than a week or seems to get worse under home care, you need to talk to a doctor or TMJ dentist.