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Why Does My Face Hurt? : The Fight Against TMJ Pain

Grab a glass of wine and settle in, because today, we're talking about aging.

Unfortunately, we all go through it.

As each year passes, I get to add body parts to the list of things that have gone "bad."

Bad back.

Bad neck.

Bad sinuses...

Father Time is laughing at me.

Turn my head too fast? "Haha now you can't look left."

Cross my leg for too long? "Here's some sharp shooting knee pain."

Lord help us all if I managed to "sleep funny."

So why not add a little something new to the mix?

How about a nice dose of TMJ?

The long, technical form is Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, but as I said, I'm aging rapidly and I ain't got time for that, so TMJ it is.

Basically, it's "an umbrella term covering 
pain and dysfunction of the muscles of mastication (the muscles that move the jaw) and the temporomandibular joints (the joints which connect the mandible to the skull). The most important feature is pain, followed by restricted mandibular movement, and noises from the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) during jaw movement." 

I'm not exactly sure what, if anything I did to create this new aging adventure for myself, all I know is that it HURT A LOT.

If you follow the BWH Facebook or Instagram pages, you may recall seeing me mentioning my on-going battle.
I had meant to update you much sooner than this, but hey, I'm a Busy Woman and sometimes life...and jobs, have other ideas.

So here it is. My somewhat abbreviated (I know you're busy, too), story about how a new body ache literally kept me on pins and needles.

I remember back in June, the left side of my jaw popped while I was talking. I talk a lot and this has happened from time to time over the last few years. Usually, it's not a big deal...or so I thought.

When this has happened in the past, I'd have a tinge of pain for a moment or two and it would go away. I miss those times.

This time, I felt the pain immediately, which is normal, but then the days and weeks progressed and so did the pain.
I could no longer open or close my mouth fully and chewing became a chore, even soft foods.

Now, if you've read ANY of my past blogs on Intermittent Fasting, you know that I like to eat. This was not kosher.

By the end of the day, even with the help of Ibuprofen, the pain had caused such discord in my body that I was a shell of a person. It felt like my energy was depleted faster than I could guzzle down my coffee. 

Nothing I did was helping.

The final straw was about two weeks after my "jaw pop." I was in our weekly staff meeting, someone said something really funny and I laughed. Just a regular freaking laugh, but it hurt so much and the pain I felt immediately almost sent me to tears.

That was it. My quality of life was at LAUGH WAS AT STAKE and I had to do something.

My boss had recently suffered from some herniated disks and had gone to see a Chiropractor who incorporated acupressure, acupuncture and Chinese fire cupping into his practice. This doctor had helped him and I hoped he could do the same for me.

I called and made an appointment for the next day.

Now, I have gone to Chiropractors since I was in the 6th grade, but I had never tried any of the Eastern medicines, although I have always been curious about them.

I arrived at my first appointment and was met by the doc and put on the table. 

This particular Chriopractor has been practicing since the mid-60s and called me kiddo.

He was humorous, personable, educated and a heck of a story teller.

I liked him immediately.

During the adjustment, he found lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of knots in various places, especially in my neck, head and shoulder blades. 

"This isn't good, kiddo." Nope. Not at all. Also, not surprising.

This is where I carry tension.

He dug into each knot one by one.

The acupressure had begun and holy guacamole, relief! I could feel the tension easing with each press.

He did some regular neck and back adjustments, but the real magic came next.


I was a little nervous...I mean, who likes needles?

Especially when you know there are about to be several of your. face....and god knows where else.

I found out where else quickly.

He put them all over in my face, head and ears. 

Then he put some in my hands, arms and feet.

Most I didn't even feel, some I definitely could. Not that it hurt. It was more like a little pin prick...which, I mean, it was.

Also, let me tell ya how difficult it is to take a selfie with needles all up in your hands and arms. Those babies are in pressure points, and one wrong move does not feel pleasant, but documentation is important, right??

Once he was done, he left me to lie and hopefully heal for quite some time, maybe 30 to 45 minutes. I can't say that I really felt any different right after, but I also knew these things take time.

Afterwards, he led me to another room, gave me a gown and instructed me to lie face down on the table.

Out came the needles again, and this time they went into my back, neck and head. One found its way into a knot he hadn't discovered yet.

Well, it was discovered now. It was a weird, when you have a pinch in your neck.

It made me go, "Oh!"

I’m not sure if he removed the pin, but he applied pressure and eased the knot quickly.

Then, it was time for the fire cupping.

Holy hell, those things are tight at first! I just kept imagining giant leaches being attached to my body. 

I couldn't see what exactly was happening since, hello, I'm face down on this table, but I could hear and smell the distinct sound of matches being lit.

Once he placed the last one, six in total, he informed me that they would be there for 20 minutes.

I reeealllyyy didn't think I could make it that long, but I didn't want to revert to my old lady, whiny ways and I reeealllyyy wanted this to work, so I toughed it out and just said I was "fine." There may've been some attitude to it, like when you tell your SO you're "fine" when you really just want to throw a Chinese fire cup at their head, but, thankfully, either my body adjusted to the powerful suction, or they eased up a bit. Either way, it was tolerable, and then even became somewhat pleasant as I lay there.

I, unfortunately, didn't get any pics of the actual cupping. I mean, I can strike some creative poses to make a selfie happen, but I am also not a flexible person, but here's an example.

I should've probably asked him to take the pic, but I thought he might find that weird. I really didn't want to be his weird patient asking him to take pictures with glass jars and needles in/on her back, so, instead, I focused on my new TMJ-free life.

I would eat crunchy foods again...with BIG bites!

I'd laugh with my mouth fully open and I'd close it ALL THE WAY!!

After the twenty minutes was up, he went to work on adjusting and acupressure once again.

"Do I still REALLY have this many knots after all of this??"

Yep. I sure did.

He told me he wanted me back in for what he called a "tweak" in two days, but in the meantime, not to overexert my jaw and keep with the soft foods.

I left feeling sore and tender, yet somewhat better, and with hope that my jaw would soon be back to flapping without reserve once again.

No such luck. Although, I COULD finally bite down on my left, back teeth for the first time in ages, so that was something.

And I got the bonus of freaking the heck out of the BF by showing him my hicky (is that how you spell it?)-laced back when he got home from work that evening.

The jaw pain, though, while lessened, continued to suck the life and energy out of me.

Thankfully, the next two days went by quickly and I was soon back on the table being cracked, poked and stuck. No fire cupping this time.

This repeated for a few more appointments and I was seeing and feeling a difference.

I went from a "my pain" level of maybe an 8 to more like a .3 to a 3 depending on the day and time of day (it was always worse in the morning).

My energy level came back and after appointment three, I came home and vacuumed the WHOLE HOUSE just because I could!

I felt like ME again!

By the last few appointments, he added in the TENS unit, which is shorthand for "transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation."

So, basically the electrodes that stick to whichever part of your body that needs fixing and "stimulates" the area by passing electricity through it to make your muscles tighten and relax, reducing the pain signals that are transmitted.

My last appointment was about two weeks ago now due to some hectic work schedules, but I am feeling 95% better overall.

My takeaway is that my tension starts in my neck, especially my left side, then moves its way up to my head and down to my hips and upper legs. I'm a big ball of stress, basically, and the body is totally connected. So, if you get out of whack in one area, the rest are soon to follow.

I still have maybe a .2 - .9 level of pain and I will absolutely be going back when everything eases up, but in the meantime, "Doc," (as I've come to refer to him only to myself), filled me in a few tricks to help with upkeep. 

One is the Theracane or "Selfie Massager."

You can see it in this pic on top of my foam roller and yoga pad. This bad boy gets those knots that you just can’t get on your own. It has changed my life and I highly, highly recommend it!

This is the one I got on Amazon, but there are many similar ones out there that all do the same basic thing.

He also told me that finding knots, especially in your skull, is like an Easter Egg hunt. When you find a tender area, aka a knot, you press with your knuckle for about 20 seconds, then move on to the next one.

I've also incorporated the use of a foam roller ever since a physical therapy friend bought me one for my birthday. I think it was my 26th, which means I was already falling apart then. 

They help move lactic acid out of the body after a workout AND help with knots in your back, legs and hips.

Here's a handy-dandy vid on how to use them.

And if you want your own, there are tons of affordable ones on Amazon to check out, like this one right here.

I'll keep you posted on my journey to figure out this aging gracefully thing, but until then, thanks for reading. 


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