Many of us learned some basics about human anatomy in school, including the skeletal system. Remember having to name the bones such as the skull, femur, or tibia? But it’s not just the bones that provide our bodies with our strong and functional foundation. Our joints are a critical piece of the skeletal system that allow us to move, eat, work, play, and do pretty much everything we do each day. It’s time to give these hard-working, unsung heroes the attention they deserve!
Types of Joints
It’s easy to see that the body’s joints have distinct movements and abilities. In fact, joints have many qualities that make them useful in their own unique ways. For instance:
- Hips and shoulders are ball and socket joints. These joints have a round ball-shaped piece that fits into the cup of the other piece. It allows for a great range of movement – think of how you can move your arm or leg in a circle-type motion.
- The knee joint is a hinge joint. It moves primarily in one direction – back and forth – like a door hinge. Other hinge joints are the ankle and elbow. A hinge joint is useful because a knee that could bend in both directions, for instance, would make running or walking difficult. But, many hinge joints also allow some slight side to side movement, so they aren’t strictly “hinges.”
- Pivot joints, such as the one that connects the head to the top of the spine, allows for movement around an axis.
- The hands have special hinge joints that allow movement that is unique to the fingers and wrists.
- The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), your jaw joint, is a special type of joint that works a little like a hinge and a ball and socket at the same time. In fact, your jaw joint moves out of the center of the socket regularly during normal function.
No matter how each joint moves, it is constructed in a way that works for that particular body part to allow us to function.
TMJ and Jaw Joint Problems
The TMJ is anything but a simple hinge, and it’s definitely not a standard ball-and-socket joint. It’s exceptionally strong: think of how hard you can bite something and break it. It’s also equipped to undergo a lot of stress as we eat and chew each day and is the most used joint in the body.
The mandible is the lower jaw bone that moves as we chew. When the mouth opens wide, the TMJ’s “ball,” known as the condyle, actually comes out of its socket in the skull. This socket is known as the mandibular fossa. Then, the condyle moves back into place as it closes.
This special movement can easily go awry when the jaw joint is stressed or inflamed. The tendons that support the jaw’s movement may become overstretched or strained, and the condyle can move too far out of place. This can result in jaw locking, pain, inflammation, and many of the other painful symptoms of a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
Caring for Your Jaw Joint
Because your TMJ is so important, jaw pain and problems should not be ignored. If you’re experiencing symptoms of TMD such as jaw pain, headaches, earaches, and limited movement of the jaw, don’t wait for it to get worse. Your jaw joint is too important to be neglected. Contact MedCenter TMJ to learn about TMD and ways you can help heal your jaw and get back to living your life.