by Adam Brown
updated July 15, 2020
The Acronym TMJ refers to the temporo-mandibular joint or what we commonly refer to as our jaw. If you suffer from TMJ pain you know that it can be debilitating. Physiotherapy is a primary line of treatment for TMJ pain and should be considered a first line of defence.
Why Does My TMJ (Jaw) Hurt?
The TMJ is a complex joint between the mandible (jaw bone) and temporalis (skull bone). In order to function correctly the joints on both side must be able to fully open in two phases. A rotational phase where the mandibular head spins inside the joint and a translational phase where the mandible and a disc glide forward on the temporalis bone. If all of this movement is not coordinated well it can cause misalignment of the jaw and painful symptoms.
Causes of TMJ Misalignment
Your TMJ can become injured in a variety of ways that result in painful movement, or misalignment of the jaw.
TRAUMA – Some people sustain a trauma to the joint which results in hypermobility or after a scarring process stiffness of one of the TMJ joints. The unequal movement can then lead to accelerated wear and tear of the joint structures.
GRINDING – Your dentist may have remarked that you are a ‘grinder’ and recommended a night guard to protect your teeth from wear. All of that grinding and clenching of the jaw while you sleep also has an effect on your TMJ joints. It can result in joint or disc injury as well as muscle spasm.
POSTURE – Most people don’t realize many of the muscles that control their jaw also attach to their upper neck. Chronically poor correctly. Sometimes people injure their TMJ joints by eating. Biting large or hard objects especially if only biting on one side of the mouth can easily injure your TMJ.
Most people who seek help with their TMJ can not point to one specific incident, but rather describe a condition that came on slowly and gets worse over time.
What Are The Symptoms of TMJ?
TMJ symptoms can be mild or quite severe. They can progress to the point that patients have a difficult time eating solid food. Here are a list of common symptoms that patients experience when dealing with TMJ dysfunction.
- Pain in the TMJ joint – just in front of your ear hole.
- Popping or clicking (may be painful or painless)
- Locking of the jaw in an open position
- Muscle spasm at the angle of their jaw and on the side of their head.
How does Physiotherapy Eliminate TMJ Dysfunction and Pain?
IMPROVING TMJ JOINT MOBILITY – If a patient is assessed to have TMJ arising from an immoble TMJ joint (usually as a result of some past physical trauma that resulted in stiffness) the physiotherapist can use manual therapy techniques to get the immoble TMJ moving properly again. They will then prescribe specific stretches that will help you to maintain the range of motion improvement between visits.
REDUCING TMJ MUSCLE SPASM – Physiotherapists are anatomy experts and understand how to assess the muscles of your TMJ. Often we find that muscle spasm preventing the TMJ joint from recovering. Manual therapy techniques to reduce spasm will help to improve joint alignment and movement, ultimately resulting in less pain!
STRENGTHENING FOR HYPERMOBILE TMJ JOINTS – Some patients have a TMJ joint that moves WAY too easily, way too much or in a poor pattern. Your physiotherapist can recognize this problem and help with treatments and exercises that strengthen weak muscles and improve your natural movement patterns.
POSTURAL TRAINING – Changing that forward head posture makes a big difference for some people who suffer from TMJ dysfunction. We teach patients how to strengthen postural muscles and lengthen shortened tissues so that they can improve their head position. Your Physiotherapist will also make suggestions that will help set up your workstation, car or anywhere else you spend a lot of time sitting to promote a better body position.
PAIN RELIEF FOR TMJ DYSFUNCTION – When patients are in a lot of pain and just need some relief so that they can begin to make the changes outlined above, a physiotherapist can relieve the pain with thermal modalities, acupuncture and gentle manual therapy.
A great Physiotherapist will do a thorough assessment of your particular TMJ problem and match the treatment plan to the cause of your symptoms.
Other Sources of Help
In severe cases a dentist or orthodontist or maxillofacial surgeon can be helpful with surgeries, or mouthguards that are designed to restore the TMJ to a more normal movement pattern.
If you are suffering with TMJ pain. Give us a call. We can help.
Adam Brown MClScPT
Adam is a well-respected physiotherapist known for successfully treating complex patients throughout the Greater Toronto Area. He co-founded Cornerstone Physiotherapy and provides mentorship to orthopaedic physiotherapists.
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