If you’re anything like me, one of the things that I find the most frustrating about having TMJ disorder (or any chronic pain condition, really) is the instability of it… Often, the pain is not steady or stable, and it is hard to know how I am going to feel from one day to the next. This can be incredibly frustrating! Not just for us as patients, but also for our loved ones. It can be difficult to make plans, not knowing how we will feel.
I remember sitting on my couch one afternoon after a particularly rough flare-up, trying to run through the damage it had done…. what appointments did I need to reschedule because I missed them… which friends did I need to call to apologize for being absent from a get together… etc…
I was totally sick of it! And I had enough… so, I started to devise a plan to take control of my health rather than having it take control of me!
I’d like to share some of my plan with you today, and I want to hear what you do to manage flare-ups! If we share tips, I’m sure that together we can come up with some great stuff!
So here are some of the things I do… some are harder than others, but some you’ll be surprised how easy they are and how much of a difference they can make!
- Figure out why you’re having a flare-up in the first place. – Figuring out why you are having the increase in pain can help you prevent them in the future. Of course, sometimes they just happen out of the blue… but there are also identifiable issues that can cause increases in pain for TMJD patients.
- Here are some issues that can cause an increase in pain for TMJ disorder patients:
1) Stress – identify what makes you stressed and try as hard as you can to clear that stress out of your life, or at least make things easier.
2) Overdoing it – pushing yourself too hard may make you pay for it later. It’s really important to have a clear idea of what is too much for your body to handle, and stick to it. Balance activity with times of rest.
3) Medicine – If you do not take your medication regularly, miss a dose, or are not taking it as prescribed, it will catch up with you! This is an easy thing to control… take your medicine the way your doctor prescribed it.. do not stop taking medication just because you feel better.
4) Overusing your jaw – Eating things you shouldn’t, yelling (try not to yell.. personally, it’s a huge trigger for my pain, so I imagine it could be for you, too), talking too much.
5) Weather - some people feel that the weather makes their jaw hurt or makes it more stiff.
- How to respond to a flare-up once you know what caused it:
Ice or heat – this is a first line response to any increase in pain. I’m a fan of heat personally. My favorite heating pad (& the one many patients I know like) is the Theratherm Digital Moist Heating Pad (I like the Shoulder/Neck size but the big one would be great too).
Ask for help - your family & friends would rather help you than have you be in more pain! Often, they don’t know what to do for you, so when they can actually help…. LET them!!! It helps them feel in control of the illness too.
Try not to think of the worst case scenario – If your pain has increased, try not to imagine the worse case scenario. This is called “catastrophizing.” Try to recognize that the way you deal with the flare-up can really effect how severe it is. Once you start to think in a catastrophic way, your stress level will increase. Remember that this is probably temporary! You WILL feel better!
One of the strategies that has helped me the most is to keep track of how I am feeling in a pain journal. Not only does this help me notice patterns in my pain, but it also gives me insight into what triggers a flare-up. Then when I visit the doctor, I can show him/her the journal, and we can use it to tweak my treatment. It gives the doctor a look into my life that he wouldn’t normally have.
I’ve created a free pain journal for you to download and print out. Just click on the PDF file and it will download to your computer.
Keeping track of my pain in this way has been great because it allows me to tweak things that I would have never known about before. I highly recommend downloading the journal and trying it for yourself!
What do YOU do to manage pain flare-ups? Any tips to share with us? Let’s start a discussion in the comments below!