Can anxiety worsen Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Can anxiety worsen Temporomandibular Joint Disorders?

Most people will experience an anxiety attack as least once in their lives due to everyday stress like being stuck in traffic, standing in a queue when your lunch break is just about over, and so forth. Even though anxiety is such a common phenomenon, it can cause very unpleasant side effects on its own, and even worsen the symptoms of already acquired illnesses. One of the conditions that can either be caused by anxiety or worsened by it, is temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders.

Can anxiety worsen Temporomandibular Joint DisordersWhat is TMJ disorder?

Your temporomandibular joint is where your lower jaw is joined to your upper jaw just in front of your ears. If this joint is affected by any disease it will become difficult to talk and even to eat because every time you open your mouth you will experience pain in the muscles surrounding the joint. As you can see this is clearly a serious condition and it is believed that anxiety can potentially cause it. What is definitely known is that anxiety can aggravate it.

How does anxiety cause or worsen TMJ disorder?

During an anxiety attack your body releases stress hormones that excite the major muscles in your body, including your heart muscle, so that these muscles can contract stronger and faster. If your body does not get rid of these stress hormones your muscles will remain excited, eventually become exhausted and as a result they can go into spasm.

The muscles of the head and neck are especially prone to tightness caused by anxiety. Many of us, at one stage in our lives, clenched our teeth in our sleep, due to feelings of stress. The next morning you wake up with pain over the sides of your face just in front of your ears. This pain is caused by excessive pressure on your TM joint caused by clenching your teeth.

In some people who already have degenerative TMJ disorders, anxiety can worsen the condition to such an extent that surgery may become necessary. Unfortunately, if your anxiety is left untreated and manifests in excessive teeth grinding, your fate may be the same as the TMJ will become eroded by the continuous pressure exerted on it.

How to relieve Temporomandibular Joint Pain?

If anxiety is causing your problem, it is best to consider treatment for anxiety first. This can include relaxation techniques such as aerobic exercise, breathing exercises, meditation or yoga. You will need to learn alternative ways to deal with stressful situations. A psychologist can help you with the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Alternatively your doctor can prescribe you some anti-depressants to help you relax until you have your anxiety under control.

Interestingly enough, the treatment of many temporomandibular joint conditions include anti-depressants also used for treating anxiety. This is because the medicine helps to increase the serotonin levels in the brain which in turn helps the tightened muscles in your body to relax.

If you want more natural ways of relieving the joint pain in your jaw, try jaw relaxation exercises or even physical therapy.

References:

Velly, Ana M; Look, John O… October 2011.”The effect of catastrophizing and depression on chronic pain – a prospective cohort study of temporomandibular muscle and joint pain disorders” PAIN 152: 2377-2383. Elsevier (October 1, 2012).  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304395911004441

DeRossi, Scott S; Stoopler, Eric T. 2005. ”Temporomandibular Disorders And Migraine Headache: Comorbid Conditions?”. The Internet Journal of Dental Science. Volume 2 Number 1. DOI: 10.5580/214e (October 1, 2012) http://www.ispub.com/journal/the-internet-journal-of-dental-science/volume-2-number-1/temporomandibular-disorders-and-migraine-headache-comorbid-conditions.html

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