Is Jaw Pain Decreasing your Quality of Life?

by Erin Finkelstein, GCFP

I was diagnosed with Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder while studying the clarinet during my sophomore year at the University of the Pacific, Conservatory of Music. I felt radiating pain whenever I played my instrument and feared that my future as a musician would be compromised. Wind instrumentalists, violinists, violists, and singers produce sound or hold their instrument by using their jaw and face. TMJ disorder is a common injury for musicians and can be debilitating for professionals.

I traced the seed of my physical problem to my earliest years as a clarinetist. It is a typical developmental milestone for middle school aged clarinet players to have to “fix” their embouchure (the shape one's mouth is in to hold the instrument), as they grow physically.
We are told to make a flat chin to allow the reed (which one blows into to make a sound) to rest on half of the pink part of the lip and not the skin below. As a rather driven young person, I achieved this quickly by forcing the TMJ and jaw forward, rather than using the facial muscles to open the jaw and hold the instrument. What my teacher and I did not realize was that I had translated her words into pushing my jaw forward and locking the hinge of the TMJ out of its neutral position while I played, creating an unnatural underbite for long periods of time.

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