Using Heat & Ice Therapy to Alleviate your TMJ Pain

by Dr. Dana Rockey, DMD, Owner, Prescott Sleep Solutions

You have two temporomandibular joints (TMJs), one on either side of your head. Your TMJs attach your jawbone to your skull and allow it to move up, down, out, in and to the side.

When your TMJs are healthy and strong, you open and close your jaw without pain or difficulty.

However, if you have TMJ disorder, your jaw doesn’t act like a well-oiled hinge.

Instead, it causes such symptoms as:

  • Clicking
  • Popping
  • Getting stuck
  • Tinnitus
  • Earaches
  • Jaw or face pain
  • Tooth pain
  • Swelling
  • Headaches
  • Shoulder and neck pain

A first-line treatment is heat and cold therapy to alleviate swelling and pain.

If your jaw is swollen and hurts when you move it, your first DIY remedy — other than rest — should be placing a wrapped ice pack on your jaw. Ice constricts blood vessels, which can reduce the swelling on an injured, throbbing jaw.

Don’t apply ice directly to the skin to avoid burning or blistering. Only apply the ice for about 15 minutes, several times a day. If ice alone doesn’t ease the pain, you can try over-the-counter pain relievers.

Use heat to increase circulation. Heat dilates your blood vessels, which increases circulation to the area. Increased circulation means your tired, painful jaw is flooded with oxygen and nutrients needed to function at its best.

You can place a heating pad to your jaw and, just like with ice, make sure you wrap it with a towel. Limit use to about 15 to 20 minutes. The heat can relax the muscles and other soft tissues that operate your TMJ.

Many cases of TMJ disorder are an unconscious response to stress. In these cases, you may clench your jaw or grind your teeth, habits that fatigue your TMJ and endanger the health of your teeth.

Alternate cold and heat for best results.

Still, you don’t want to spend your life switching from cold compresses to hot ones. Ideally, address your TMJ pain at its source.

Many cases start because of an unconscious habit called bruxism. If you engage in bruxism, you clench your jaw and grind your teeth at night. Sometimes, bruxism is the sign of a further condition, a potentially dangerous sleep breathing disorder called sleep apnea.

Find out what’s causing your TMJ pain, and get the treatment you need.