by Ken Marshall
Could a Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ disorder or TMD) be cramping your writing style? Are long days at the desk straining your jaw?
You might not think of your jaw when you think of writer’s block but a TMJ disorder can cause a whole host of problems that will make it difficult to be an effective writer. These include jaw pain, headaches, sleep problems, and even changes in diet. All could be detrimental to your writing.
Likewise, your writing lifestyle could impact your jaw. Fortunately, TMDs are treatable. But before getting into that, let’s go over what the disorder actually is.
What is a Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
A TMJ disorder occurs when the temporomandibular joint is damaged or malfunctioning. The temporomandibular joint is immensely complex and allows the jaw to move forward, backward, side-to-side, and up and down. No other joint allows for such a wide range of motion.
Unfortunately, if this joint is damaged or malfunctioning, it could cause several problems across the maxillofacial region and beyond. The maxillofacial region includes the jaw, skull, mouth, face, and supporting structures, and is a complex system of muscles, bones, and other tissues.
For example, one of the common symptoms of a TMJ disorder is a headache. The disorder may cause the muscles connecting the jaw to the top of your head to tighten. This could result in a tension headache.
Whether you’re trying to write the next Great American Novel or are looking for crisp, polished ad copy, it’s hard to write through the pain.
TMDs Can Result in Many Symptoms That Impact Writers
Unfortunately, the pain doesn’t stop there. Malfunctioning muscles connected to the jaw can also produce pain behind the eyes and earaches, as well as toothaches.
Unsurprisingly, jaw pain is also very common with TMDs. Your jaw may hurt constantly, or you may only suffer pain when moving it.
Outside of pain, other common symptoms include a clicking sound when you move your jaw, and lockjaw (where the jaw “locks up” and won’t move). Speaking and eating could also become difficult.
A TMD may even affect your sleep. For one, pain can keep you up at night. Second, TMDs have been linked to sleep apnea, although we’re not yet sure how they’re linked. Either way, a lack of sleep can lead to decreased alertness, difficulty concentrating, poor work performance, and bad judgment.
Studies Suggest Pain Makes It Difficult to Focus
Focus and memory are both important for writing. Anyone who’s tried to write while distracted knows it’s hard to craft that perfect prose. Likewise, if you’re struggling to remember things, how are you going to remember what you want to write?
This isn’t conjecture. A study on chronic pain found that those in pain struggled to stay focused on tasks and also had impaired working memory. Studies elsewhere have found a link between chronic pain and cognitive impairments.
In many ways, writing is an exercise in focus. You have to know both what you want to say and how you want to say it. If you’re distracted, thinking about how you can relieve the pain, you won’t be able to focus your full attention on your writing.
Fortunately, if a TMD is the source of your pain, it’s treatable.
Your Writing Posture Could Impact Your Temporomandibular Joint
Even if a TMD is impacting your writing, surely your writing isn’t impacting your TMD, right? Actually, links have been found between bad posture and TMDs.
Think about all those hours you spend sitting at your desk, table, or on your couch writing. As I outlined earlier, the temporomandibular joint is connected to many muscles and can even cause pain in your lower back. Likewise, bad posture could be impacting your temporomandibular joint. This is especially true of poor neck and shoulder posture.
Cervical (neck) and head position will have an impact on your maxillofacial muscles. Sitting in the wrong position could cause muscles to tense up, for example, which in turn could put pressure on your temporomandibular joint.
Some argue that sitting in a forward position (as often happens when you slouch) can strain the jaw. Unfortunately, the temptation to slouch during a long writing session can be all but impossible to resist.
Studies have found an association with placing your head beyond your center of gravity and TMDs. Lack of level shoulders has also been associated with this condition. While more extensive research is needed, there does seem to be a link between poor posture and TMDs.
And for many writers, poor posture is a common and constant problem.
How Writers Can Alleviate Jaw Pain
If you and your writing are suffering from a TMD, then it needs to be treated. TMDs are complex and can be caused by a variety of underlying factors. The exact type of treatment that will prove most effective will depend on the underlying causes.
Often, TMJ disorders are the result of misalignment. In this case, bite orthotics may be needed to properly align your jaw and reduce unnecessary strain on your joints.
As for muscle tension, muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs can help. You may need to talk to a medical practitioner to get a subscription. In the short -term, over-the-counter pain relief drugs may provide temporary relief.
Both hot and cold compresses can reduce pain, and hot compresses are especially effective for treating headaches. A cold compress, meanwhile, can reduce swelling.
Joint exercises and physical massages can provide pain relief and may help address underlying issues. However, if done incorrectly, physical therapy may worsen your condition. Correcting your posture may also reduce jaw pain.
If you are suffering from jaw pain, avoid hard and chewy foods. Eating these foods will exacerbate the pain and possibly the condition. Give your jaw some time to heal and eat soft foods instead.
As for diagnosing TMDs, the most effective method is a Cone Beam CT scan, which will produce a 3-D image of your jaw joint. This scan in combination with a physical examination by a TMD expert should be able to determine whether you have a TMD.
Ultimately, TMDs can affect your overall quality of life, and that will have a big impact on your writing. Long days sitting with poor posture could likewise strain your temporomandibular joint. So if you are suffering from jaw pain, make sure you get it looked at.
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His health is extremely important to him and he enjoys helping Restore TMJ & Sleep Therapy educate readers and patients about TMJ disorders, orofacial pain, and sleep-disordered breathing.
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Peri, C. (2009, December 30). What Lack of Sleep Does to Your Mind. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/emotions-cognitive#1
Sanders, A., Essick, G., Fillingim, R., Knott, C., Ohrbach, R., Greenspan, J., … Slade, G. (2013). Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Risk of Temporomandibular Disorder. Journal of Dental Research, 92(7_suppl), S70-S77. doi:10.1177/0022034513488140
Spindler, M., Koch, K., Borisov, E., Özyurt, J., Sörös, P., Thiel, C., & Bantel, C. (2018). The Influence of Chronic Pain and Cognitive Function on Spatial-Numerical Processing. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00165
Wright, E. F., Domenech, M. A., & Fischer, J. R. (2000). Usefulness of Posture Training for Patients with Temporomandibular Disorders. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 131(2), 202-210. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2000.0148