A Review on Different Forms of Managing Chronic Pain

Note: I want to start off by highlighting that this is just my personal experience with chronic pain. I acknowledge that there are other forms of chronic pain that are more severe than my own TMJ experience.

Chronic pain is defined as pain that has a constant recurrence. TMJ is a pain in the joint of the jaw that is caused by a variety of medical conditions, including arthritis for some, or even trauma such as whiplash. I’ve dealt with TMJ for six years and I’ve tried lots of different things to deal with the chronic pain such as acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractors and more. I wanted to share with you my experience with different forms of care for chronic pain. Chronic pain can vary and there are definitely others who have forms of chronic pain that are way worse than mine, and your form of chronic pain may not be helped with the care I am going to write about below.

  1. 1. Chiropractor

    The first form of help I tried was chiropractic therapy. My chiropractor would adjust my ribs, shoulders and neck in the hopes of helping the pain that was connected to my jaw. My jaw still cracked and clicked and got locked close, and I still experienced headaches. But it definitely helped the alignment of my shoulders and I would be able to have more mobility with my neck after appointments. To me, chiropractic therapy was only a short term solution, and I would feel my body coming out of alignment shortly after which resulted in me going more and inevitably spending more money. From there I decided to switch it up and I then tried acupuncture. Something that I still use to this day after not attending a chiropractor for three years is the use of Tiger Balm, a muscle cream that my chiropractor would sell.

  2. 2. Acupuncture

    I got acupuncture done on my jaw six times. I am not afraid of needles in any way so to me there was nothing freaky about the treatment. My jaw felt great as the needles were in my face and stimulating my nerves, and the effects lasted throughout the rest of the day, but it was not a long-term treatment. Five needles were placed in the muscles of my face. One was beside my right eye about two cm below where my eyebrow ended, one was just in front of my right ear where the bone of the jaw is, one was behind my ear, one was in the center of my cheek, and the other was in my temple. At this point in my chronic pain journey, my jaw was just starting to fall out of place, and it resulted in ear pain (ear infections, popping and aches are common with TMJ) as my jaw was hitting a point near my ear drum, or so my doctor said. After six rounds of acupuncture, I got an ear infection, so I then stopped the treatment so I could heal.

  3. 3. Self Care for Chronic Pain

    For a while I stopped any treatment and tried some cheaper options. I became friends with Advil, I would sleep with a cold cloth on my head when headaches were bad, I bought therapy rice bags that you heat up and place on sore muscles, I iced my jaw weekly, tried self massages, and cut out anything that was not wise to eat with TMJ (apples, chewy candy, etc.) Hot baths were great for when my neck and shoulders got bad, and I tried to do some stretching exercises at home for my jaw. These self treatments for the pain really did help me. I would still have my bad days, but I had a way to deal with it. I’d ice it, maybe take a bath, and fall asleep with some arthritis cream on my jaw and neck.

  4. 4. Massage Therapy

    Massage therapy was definitely my favorite from of treatment for my chronic pain, as not only did it really help my jaw, neck and shoulders, but it helped me feel better longer than the other treatments. For my jaw, I got a specific type of massage done called myofascial release, which I also try to do at home if my jaw gets really bad and I can’t get in to see my massage therapist. The massage for my jaw would consist of a masseuse placing a finger in my mouth to release the tense muscles along the inner tissue of my cheek. The one downside is that massage therapy is pricey, even with insurance covering half of it, but I’d usually get a half hour massage instead of the hour and the massage was still just as effective. For those wanting a more permanent form of help and price is not an issue, then I’d recommend massage therapy is the one.

  5. 5. Seeing a TMJ Specialist

    I decided to see a specialist to run some tests and figure out what would be best for my jaw last summer. After an x-ray and various exercises where they had me wear a metal device and open and close my jaw, they told me that my cartilage is now in the wrong place in my jaw. Basically, your jaw is made up of two bones (the maxilla and mandible) and in between those bones is cartilage that acts like a cushion. My cartilage is not in that position and instead the bones are on top of each other (which may explain my jaw locking shut sometimes). I wouldn’t have been able to know exactly what was causing my TMJ pain if I hadn’t had gone to a specialist and done the proper tests. They designed an appliance for me to wear at night as I sleep to keep my jaw propped open and keep the bones off of each other, to hopefully stop headaches and allow the cartilage to “move back” into place over the course of a few years. This was the most expensive form of care upfront. However, the mouth guard will last me years, unlike the other forms of care that are more temporary and paid for regularly. TMJ specialists are hard to come by and the specialist that I saw lives in midland, just north of Barrie. The doctor was really helpful in educating me about how the jaw works in comparison to how my jaw works. It made everything make more sense. Now a year after using the guard, my symptoms are more manageable.

There are many forms of chronic pain and many different forms of care for pain. What works for me may not work for you, and discovering what works best is all a part of the journey. I hope you found this account of my personal experiences helpful, and I wish you all the best in finding what works for you.