The temporomandibular joint (sometimes abbreviated TMJ) allows your jaw to move forward and back, as well as tilting up to the left or right. The jaw can also move from side to side. This is a degree of motion that few joints in the body allow. This remarkable freedom of movement also makes the TMJ highly vulnerable to traumatic injury. Whenever you experience a blow to the head or a sudden jerk of motion that can cause a whiplash injury, you might experience a TMJ injury as well. And once you’ve injured your TMJ, you’re more prone to experience injuries again in the future. So, what can you do if you’ve injured or reinjured your TMJ? Here are some basic suggestions.

Common Causes of Traumatic TMJ Injuries

Although trauma is not the leading cause of TMJ Injuries, it remains highly prevalent. There are many sources of traumatic TMJ injuries, including:

  • Car accidents
  • Sports accidents
  • Falls
  • Violence

Car accidents are among the leading causes of traumatic accidents in the US. The forces involved in a car accident are very powerful, capable of causing TMJ in many ways. You might hit your head or jaw against any part of the car. This can even include safety equipment, such as an airbag, which explodes outward with such force that it can almost count as its own traumatic injury. However, it’s also possible to injure your TMJ without striking anything. TMJ whiplash injuries are also very common.

Sports accidents are another common cause of traumatic TMJ injuries. It’s essential to wear a properly fitting mouthguard when participating in sports. It protects your TMJ as well as your teeth.

Falls can also cause traumatic TMJ injuries. Often, the fall leads to an impact on the ground or other objects, which can cause TMJ injuries. The fall doesn’t have to be especially far to lead to TMJ injury.

Finally, violence is another common cause of TMJ trauma. Any blow to the head or jaw could result in TMJ injury.

See a Doctor Immediately for Care

If you’ve been involved in an incident that could potentially injure your TMJ, see a doctor immediately. Even if you feel fine, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor. Sometimes, the effects of TMJ trauma don’t surface immediately. They might worsen as time passes.

Seeing a doctor right away will help you document your injuries for insurance or legal purposes later. Your doctor might identify injuries such as bone fractures, dislocated jaw, or dental injuries. However, strained muscles and tendons might not show in your doctor’s diagnosis.

Start Managing TMJ Symptoms at Home

For some TMJ injuries, your doctor might recommend specific treatment. However, if your doctor doesn’t give a specific diagnosis, you might still feel symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorders (sometimes called TMD). These symptoms might include:

  • A bite that feels off
  • Chewing difficulties
  • Sore muscles
  • Joint pain
  • Irregular jaw motion
  • Limited jaw motion
  • Jaw noises
  • Headaches
  • Neck pain

For some injuries, these symptoms might develop on the day of your trauma. However, with other traumatic TMJ injuries, the symptoms might develop days, weeks, or even months after your traumatic impact or whiplash.

If your doctor didn’t give you any specific treatment guidelines, you might try to manage TMJ symptoms at home with three easy strategies:

  • Jaw relaxation
  • Hot and cold packs
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications

Often, these simple strategies are enough to control TMJ symptoms.

How to Relax Your Jaw

Your jaw is constantly at work, so getting it to relax isn’t as easy as you might think. You know you’re working your jaw when you talk, bite, or chew. However, your jaw also works at other times, including when you yawn, stand upright, swallow, or just breathe.

So, how can you relax your jaw? One strategy is to eat a soft diet for a few days. Choose soft foods like eggs, yogurt, mashed potatoes, soups, and other foods that don’t require much chewing. If you do eat foods that require chewing, cut them into small pieces.

Your posture can also help relax your jaw. Your jaw muscles help support your head, which is easier when you have good posture. Practice good posture when sitting or standing. Minimize time spent looking at your phone with your head bent forward, and take advantage of headrests when sitting.

Yawns are notorious for aggravating TMJ symptoms. If you feel a yawn coming, put your fist below your jaw to keep it from opening too wide when you yawn.

When to Use Hot and Cold Packs

Hot and cold packs can help relieve symptoms related to your TMJ trauma. They aren’t just helping the symptoms, either: they can help speed your recovery.

Use a cold pack for general pain relief. They’re also effective for controlling swelling, also called inflammation. Although inflammation is part of the healing process, too much can interfere with healing and slow your recovery. Don’t apply ice packs directly to your skin, and apply them for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

If you have muscle pain, moist heat can also help. Use a warm, damp towel or rice sock applied to your muscles. A hot bath or shower can also help soothe your muscle pain.

Proper Use of OTC Medications

OTC medications can also help you keep your TMJ symptoms under control. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can provide pain relief and help control swelling. These include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).

For additional pain relief, you can alternate NSAIDs with acetaminophen (Tylenol). However, don’t alternate different NSAIDs. Since they use the same mechanism of action, this can lead to complications.

Never exceed the label dosage unless given explicit instructions by a doctor or dentist.

When to Seek Professional Care

So, how do you know it’s time to get professional care for your traumatic TMJ injury symptoms? Seek professional TMJ treatment if your symptoms:

  • Worsen under home care
  • Prevent you from following your normal routine
  • Don’t respond to OTC medications
  • Last for more than seven days
  • Resolve and then come back

Take it as a sign that something is wrong if your symptoms continue to worsen under home care. Seek professional care.

When your TMJ trauma symptoms make it hard for you to talk, sleep, or do your job, then you should seek professional care.

If your symptoms are so severe that OTC medications don’t help, you should get professional care. Remember that it’s essential not to exceed the recommended dosage for OTC medications. They have risks. If your jaw symptoms aren’t responding to medication, don’t take more–it could cause serious problems.

Long-lasting and recurring symptoms are also cause to seek professional care. If your symptoms last for more than seven days or if they resolve but then return, it’s time to get professional care.

Relief from Jaw Injury Symptoms in Detroit

If you live in the Detroit area and you’re experiencing symptoms after a traumatic jaw injury, let the Michigan Head and Neck Institute help. We can find the source of your symptoms and match you with a custom solution to relieve and help you heal.

Please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online form today to request an appointment at our office in Warren, MI.