Grinding, cracking, popping, painful eating, and headaches can all be signs of TMJ dysfunction. Because the jaw is held in place primarily by muscles, it is prone to derangement via tensioning of those muscles. This tension can result in a sideways pressure on the joint if one side of your jaw (say the left jaw) is tighter than the opposite side, causing a shift in the alignment of the right joint. This can cause a buildup of pressure in the right joint, leading to ringing in the ear, headaches, and pain in the jaw itself.
Another common problem is clicking or locking of the jaw. Clicking is often caused when the meniscus (think of it as a football helmet sitting on the top of the condyle of the mandible) slips off the condyle. The slipping is the click or pop you hear. If the meniscus stays dislodged, it can lead to the inability to open or close the jaw at all. This is often troubling for the patient. If it re-seats, you will be able to close or open your mouth fully, but just with the clicking sound. It is often worse when chewing, etc.
The reason the meniscus slips off is that there is an imbalance in the timing of muscle contractions that are required to open the jaw. The jaw should first unhinge, and the translate forward, allowing full opening of the mouth. If the muscles that pull the jaw forward (the Pterygoids) contract BEFORE the ones that unhinge the jaw (Masseter) the meniscus can be pulled along and will slip in front of the condyle, causing the click. As the jaw opens, the condyle slides under the meniscus and re-seats, and you can open fully.
The exercises below are designed to correct function in the jaw, and restore harmony in the muscles that co-ordinate jaw opening.
GENERAL TMJ DYSFUNCTION
These exercises do several things for your jaw. First, they teach your brain proper mouth opening and shifting techniques. Also, they stretch the muscles that often get tight and cause pain in the jaw. Thirdly, they restore the proper sequence of contraction to help improve balance across the muscles of mastication.
Please follow closely, as some are difficult to understand, and need to be performed exactly right in order to give noticeable results.