Chiropractic care may benefit severe TMJ sufferers
How are the TMJ and upper neck connected?
The TMJ or temporomandibular joint is a fascinating part of your body. It is the only bone in your skull that is freely mobile. It is suspended 100% by muscles and ligaments. All the other bones in your skull, including your teeth, have interlocking, joints that limit their movement.
Only a few places in your body have this type of arrangement:
- Your ankle (tibo-talar joint)
- Your knee cap
- Your shoulder
- Your hip socket
- And your C1 and C1 vertebrae at the top of your spine.
What you may never have realized before is that there is a structural and neurological relationship between your TMJ, your C1, and your C2 vertebrae.
- The shape of your C1 vertebra matches the exact shape of your TMJ.
- The position of your C2 vertebrae matches the exact orientation of your TMJ (i.e., if it opens straight or if it actually opens at a sideways angle)
- The pitch or upward tilt of your TMJ dictates the amount of tilt between your C1 and C2 vertebrae, which can affect your head position.
- The rotational plane of your TMJ dictates the amount of rotation between your C1 and C2 vertebrae.
- The nerve centers in your brainstem and spinal cord at the level of your C1 and C2 vertebrae are what control the tension of the muscles that support and move your TMJ.
These are 5 simple illustrations that there is an inseparable connection between your TMJ and between your upper neck: i.e., your C1 and C2 vertebrae.
Your TMJ affects your upper neck, and your upper neck affects your TMJ.
So if you have been dealing with severe TMJ issues - and if you have already been to TMJ specialists, dentists, chiropractors, osteopaths, etc - let me ask you the question: have you had specific care focusing on the health, alignment, and integrity of your C1 and C2 vertebrae?
Is a severe TMJ problem actually a neck problem in disguise?
If you have been to TMJ specialists who focus on your TMJ, I hope that you have experienced great success. However, what many people actually have are severe TMJ problems that are actually neck issues in disguise.
So it’s not actually a TMJ specialist that they need as someone who focuses on the health of the neck and its relationship to the TMJ and the nerve system.
Here is where a unique approach called “upper cervical chiropractic” may be able to help you.
(VERY IMPORTANT note before continuing. Some people have severe TMJ issues, which require treatment with a TMJ specialist. Other people have severe TMJ issues that are actually because of a neck problem. Other people have BOTH.
For this reason, it is important to realize that the information in this article is not designed to diagnose or to provide professional advice beyond a simple illustration of how the TMJ and neck are connected, and how you may need either a TMJ specialist, an upper cervical chiropractor or both in order to help you with your severe TMJ condition.)
So what exactly is an “upper cervical chiropractor?”
An upper cervical chiropractor is a healthcare professional whose focus is on the alignment of the top bones in your neck - the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2) vertebrae - because of their role in the health of your brainstem and central nerve system. Your brain stem is essentially the master control center of your body.
Not your heart. Not your gut. Not your hormones. These things all influence you in major ways. But it is your brainstem that is the MASTER control center.
So if you have a problem with your upper neck - not broken, and not dislocated, but perhaps misaligned and entrapped even a few millimeters, like the size of a splinter in your finger - it may be enough to disrupt or interfere with normal nerve function.
A study from the 1970s demonstrated that it takes only the amount of pressure equivalent to the weight of a 5 cent coin to disrupt the function of a nerve by 50% in just 15 minutes.
Upper cervical chiropractors and researchers hypothesize that because of the physical attachments between the C1 and C2 vertebrae to the spinal cord that physical tension can be exerted on the brainstem. It has also been demonstrated that misalignment of the upper neck can affect blood flow within the brain itself!
When we consider the impact of the neck on the brainstem and health, we see that a neck problem isn’t just a neck problem or even just a TMJ problem. It is potentially a brain problem that can have far-reaching implications on the health of your entire body.
So what an upper cervical chiropractor does is focus on correcting the alignment of those top vertebrae in your neck - the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) - in order to maintain the normal, natural function of your nerve system. In this way, upper cervical care is not a treatment for any condition or disease, including severe TMJ problems.
Upper cervical care is a non-surgical, non-drug approach in the restoration and preservation of a person’s physical health.
How is upper cervical chiropractic different from general chiropractic?
Although many people think that all chiropractors are the same, many people do not realize that there are actually DOZENS of different chiropractic techniques.
The most commonly known is the type of chiropractic that uses manual adjusting and is often accompanied by a “crack” of the spine.
THIS TYPE OF CHIROPRACTIC IS NOT WHAT UPPER CERVICAL CARE IS ABOUT.
(Another important aside, I completed my chiropractic studies in the USA at Palmer College, which is the origin of chiropractic … and the stuff that I see here in Australia that is commonly called “chiropractic” is NOT what I learned it to be!)
Foremost, it is possible to correct misalignments in the spine WITHOUT twisting, pulling, popping or cracking. What many people think chiropractic is nothing more than general spinal manipulation, and that you have to move the joint past its normal range of motion in order to crack it in order for any change to happen.
The upper cervical approach that we use corrects misalignments WITHIN your neutral ranges of movement, which means that we do not need to pull anything, and also that there is NO cracking.
The way that upper cervical care works are by first performing a specific assessment for the physical and neurological health of your body. This often includes detailed, customized x-ray views that allow us to see conditions of the upper neck from angles that are not performed by general x-ray facilities or even by other chiropractors.
This level of detail allows us to see the exact direction and degree of any misalignment in your neck that could be affecting your nerve system.
The types of images we perform are not unlike the special views that a dentist or TMJ specialist would take of your jaw. The difference is that these images are of your neck!
By knowing the exact directions and degree of misalignment in your neck, the type of corrective procedure that we use is truly customized for you. For that reason, it is exceptionally light - using no more force than what you would use to feel for your pulse … and NO cracking.
One additional difference that upper cervical chiropractors use is that we do not look to adjust you all the time. Our goal is to make a specific correction and then to monitor your progress as your body heals, making a few additional adjustments as is necessary for your recovery. In truth, this is one of the secrets that make upper cervical care so unique: typically, the fewer adjustments you need, the better you are doing!
A Simple Test for Severe TMJ
When it comes to severe TMJ problems - especially if it is severe TMJ pain! - we are often dealing with a complex interaction between your cranial bones and your neck.
Previously, we mentioned how a severe TMJ problem could be an issue that requires help from a dentist or TMJ specialist OR an upper cervical chiropractor OR both. So the question you may have is, How do you know the difference?
While it is not an absolute - and certainly not a substitute for professional advice - I want to share with you a useful self-assessment method you can do at home in front of a mirror.
It’s as simple as slowly opening and closing your mouth. Go ahead and do it. When you open your mouth, pay attention to how it moves. Your jaw is meant to open in a straight line.
- If your jaw deflects sideways, it is a sign of a structural issue involving your upper jaw. Your severe TMJ issue may thus require help from a TMJ specialist such as a specific dentist
- If your jaw deviates sideways but then swings back to midline, it is a sign of a neuromuscular issue involving your lower jaw, which is influenced by your upper neck, Your severe TMJ issue may thus require help from an upper cervical chiropractor
- If your jaw deflects AND deviates but does not return to misalign when you open or close, then you may well have BOTH types of issues. Therefore, your severe TMJ problem may require a co-managed approach with both a TMJ specialist dentist and also an upper cervical chiropractor.
It is the truth when it comes to resolving severe TMJ problems that it can be like trying to un-parallel park your car when you have only a tiny gap in the front and back. In other words, you have to go back and forth many times before things actually release to the point where you experience relief.
And surely if it was simply, someone would have been able to figure out the reason for your severe TMJ issues already. Nevertheless, if no one has truly or in-depth considered the role of your upper neck in your severe TMJ issue, it may well be the missing piece of the puzzle that helps you to finally discover what you have been looking for.
Brisbane Upper Cervical Chiropractic and Severe TMJ
If you are looking to explore the possibility that your upper neck may have a role in your severe TMJ issues, then we would like to hear from you.
Our practice located in North Brisbane focuses on the role of the upper neck in nerve, muscle and health issues that may include severe TMJ problems also.
Our principal upper cervical chiropractic doctor is Dr. Jeffrey Hannah. Dr. Hannah is advanced certified in the Blair technique and is an international lecturer, speaker, and author in the field of upper cervical specific care. Dr. Hannah is also recognized as a leader in his field in Australia is one of only a few chiropractors with advanced certification in the upper neck.
Because we know that everyone’s severe TMJ condition may be different, we would like to extend the offer of a complimentary 15-minute consolation over the phone where you can discuss your condition with Dr. Hannah and ask any questions you may have to decide if care may be right for you.
To accept this no-obligation consultation, simply click the Contact Us link on this page, or phone us directly at our main office in North Lakes: 07 3188 9329.
We appreciate the challenges of long-standing severe TMJ issues, and certainly, if there is anything that we are able to do to assist, we will be honored to help.
Atlas Health Australia - “A passion and purpose for helping people enjoy a better quality of life."
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