TMD (Temporomadibular joint disorder)

June 20, 2007 at 06:08 PM · So I've played violin for nine years, beginning my tenth year in a couple months. Also, my jaw has had a painful popping problem for the past few years. This happens to be a form of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), a malfunction of any of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) components.

I was wondering a few things:

1) Is this easily caused (and made worse) by playing the violin (or by bad posture)?

2) Anyone else have this problem? Are there ways to avoid the popping?

On a note of bad posture, which I am suspecting may be the culprit:

When I was in eighth grade, I noticed during one of my extensively long practices (two full hours...I have always practiced for fun!) that I held my jaw a little bit crooked while playing. My lower jaw was about a centimeter to the left (also the side with the violin), which is about as far as the bones and muscles will naturally allow it to go. I wasn't doing it intentionally, but just happened to notice it.

A few years later, the popping began. About every other month, I would be either talking or eating, and I would open my jaw, and there would be a pop on one side, which caused brief pain. I asked my mom and she said she has that, too. She has never played violin, though, so it's possible it's genetic.

Today, the popping happens, oh, maybe once a week. Last night was the first time it happened while I was not talking or eating...I was playing violin. I know, you're thinking, "Why is Rob's jaw opening while he plays violin?" To tell you the truth, I thought it was an awkward time to open my jaw, too. I was experimenting, trying to work on a better vibrato. I decided to try playing without using the support of my thumb on the neck (probably not a good idea, but I was ready to give it a try), which meant I needed to grip the violin more firmly with my jaw. So one thing led to another, and I eventually noticed that my lower jaw was off to the left again...and opening. Odd. I've never played with it open; always talked between my teeth while playing.

Anyway, there was a pop right then and there, which made me decide that's probably a bad way to do vibrato...especially since it felt very awkward in the first place.

So yeah. Any suggestions? (not on the vibrato...that was just experimental)

Anyone else have similar problems? stories?

Replies (6)

June 20, 2007 at 06:42 PM · Having had TMJ corrected, I would say it is more to do with the alignment of the teeth and lower jaw, than from violin (assuming you and your violin are setup poperly). My TMJ was caued by a rather severe head injury (with broken bones and teeth). Corrected by orthodontics for 5 years. Tough, but at least now no more pain. Only your sepcialists would know. I would say get the TMJ corrected early in life, to avoid an uncorrectible problem as time goes on. serious TMJ can be a very serious problem.

June 21, 2007 at 05:38 PM · Years ago, I had a colleague who was both a practicing dentist and a psychologist (I'm a psychologist) who was an expert in TMJ. Other dentists would send him their most difficult and intractable TMJ cases, and he would "cure" them.

He believed that problems related to the alignment of the teeth was indeed a major culprit, and he published an article on this in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) years ago. I don't remember when, but if you want to look it up in a library somewhere, his name was Howard Sutcher.

Anyway, my wife had TMJ, and our regular dentist referred us to a recognized expert in the field, who prescribed a tranquilizer. Now, my wife, Christine, is the calmest and most relaxed person I know. It was ridiculous. So I said, "Hey, let's ask Howard."

So, Howard saw Chris once and did something with her bite, and her lifelong TMJ virtually disappeared. I don't know what he did, even though he explained it to us medically, but whatever it was, it worked.

So, my suggestion would be to have a very careful dental checkup, especially looking at issues of the bite.

Hope you find a solution.

Cordially, Sandy

June 22, 2007 at 01:35 AM · Greetings,

alternatively go to a certified crainio sacral massage specialist. This is one of the areas they excel in.



June 22, 2007 at 08:17 PM · Well, I think I'll wait a few years and see if it gets worse (right now it's just a minor annoyance, and it may not be worth all the money). My mom has it more severely, to where she has to take a break ever so often from holding her jaw open at the dentist. They're pretty good about giving her those breaks, too.

Thanks for the insights.

June 23, 2007 at 01:24 PM · I agree with the folks who seem to be suggesting that essential alignment rather than playing is causing this. But is it just weird or symptomatic if the popping only occurs on the left, as mine does? When younger, I held my violin more tightly, to the left and with head tilted; have a scar from infection to prove it, right below that corner of my jaw. So like you my sense is I created some of this problem myself. One thing I try to never do any more is hold my violin with just my head and shoulder/collarbone. Have worked a lot with chin and shoulder rests, too. Sue

June 25, 2007 at 02:41 AM · It is on just one side, and it's strange that with it having happened now for several years, and more and more frequently, it's infrequent enough that I can't tell you which side. My jaw does close more naturally a bit to the left though.

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