Thursday, December 01, 2016

So it turns out that one of my favorite muscles has been making me miserable for nearly four decades

Hi! My name is Liz Miller and I have had TMJ for 37 years, ever since I smashed my face into a step in the pool at summer camp and chipped a tooth.

(Hi, Liz!)

In the early years, my mouth would get stuck open, and a chiropractor taught me how to get it back to a position where it would close. But that's all I ever did about it. Through the decades, I've had tension headaches that felt like they started in my neck and wrapped around my head like a big old rubber band of pain, but I never associated them with my jaw.

Various dentists had asked me, "does it cause you pain?" And I'd answer that it only hurt when it would get stuck open (rare) or when it would snap and make me bite myself when I was talking or eating (frequent). And they would mention bite plates and surgery, and I just...never thought it rose to a level of needing to do something about it.

But this year our family has pretty good insurance with a high deductible, and what with one thing and another (including stuff that needs to be done every five or ten years), we seemed like we might go over that deductible, in which case, why not actually do some end of the year medical giving to ourselves? So....I asked my doctor for a referral to an oral surgeon, who told me to get a bite plate (on its way) and some physical therapy.

The physical therapist (who is AWESOME, BTW) measured all sorts of things including how far I could open my mouth without the joint popping out, and how far I could turn my head, and nod my head, and lean my head to each side. And then he had me start doing neck stretches, and shoulder and neck strengthening exercises. "Wait!" I said, "My problem's with my jaw."
"Actually," he replied, "It's with your  sternocleidomastoid" (he also had me do exercises opening and closing my mouth with various levels of resistance).

And I am here to tell you that I hadn't realized how much pain I was living with until I didn't have as much of it anymore. My tension headaches have receded, I have better range of motion, I don't bite myself as often.

It's amazing.