The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the lower jaw to the skull. It is one of the body’s most complex joints and allows you to chew, talk, and yawn. TMJ dysfunction can cause mild to severe pain. It can resolve quickly (in a few days) or can become a chronic condition lasting for months or even years. Up to 12% of the population has some form of TMJ dysfunction.
Types of TMJ dysfunction
The proper function of the TMJ relies on muscles, ligaments and bones. Any injury or condition affecting the joint from working properly may cause a TMJ disorder, known as a TMD. These disorders can cause flare-ups of discomfort and pain. Health care providers use three categories to classify TMDs:
- Jaw joint disorders — These disorders include joint pain, degenerative joint disease, and disc disorders due to the disc not being in its proper position.
- Chewing muscle disorders — Chewing muscle disorders include pain in one area of the jaw that worsens when applying pressure and pain that radiates beyond where it originates.
- TMJ headaches — Due to the complex muscular structure of the head, neck and shoulders, TMJ pain can cause tension in other parts of the upper body, triggering headaches.
TMJ dysfunction-related issues
TMJ dysfunction can occur on its own or with other issues. These issues may be a result of TMD or result in a TMD. It’s estimated that 85% of people with TMD also suffer from comorbidities.
Related conditions can include, but aren’t limited to:
- Back pain.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Heart disease.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Sleep disturbances or disorders.
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
- Depression and anxiety.
What can cause TMJ dysfunction?
TMJ dysfunction may have a clear cause, or it may not have an apparent reason. The dysfunction may be due to one or many factors, including:
- Traumatic injury to the head or neck.
- History of teeth clenching or grinding.
- Orthodontic issues such as a “bad” bite or missing teeth.
- Improper jaw alignment.
- Under- or overgrowth of the jaw or jaw muscles.
- Overuse (eating food that is too hard or chewy).
What are the symptoms of TMJ dysfunction?
Symptoms of TMJ dysfunction can be mild to debilitating. These symptoms may also be symptoms of other conditions. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, an examination could be beneficial for diagnosis and treatment:
- Chronic pain in the face, jaw, ear, neck and shoulders.
- Restricted movement of the mouth (unable to open wide).
- Clicking, popping or grinding felt in the jaw when opening and closing the mouth.
- Difficulty chewing.
- Ringing in the ears or hearing loss.
- Inflammation in the jaw.
- Dental issues.
How is TMJ dysfunction treated?
Some TMJ dysfunction pain can resolve on its own over time, typically in about six to eight weeks. However, some pain needs some form of treatment to help. Treatments for TMJ dysfunction can include:
- Physical therapy.
- Surgery (in severe cases).
Physical therapy for TMJ dysfunction
A physical therapist can help you find relief with an individualized treatment plan designed around your specific needs. Treatments can include:
- Manual therapy — Your physical therapist may use soft tissue mobilization to help address any muscle spasms or tension in your neck or jaw. They may also use joint mobilization to help address tension in your neck and jaw. Both of these techniques are intended to help restore proper jaw movement and help relieve pain.
- Iontophoresis — Your physical therapist may use iontophoresis. This noninvasive modality uses an electrical current to deliver medication through the skin of the affected area, in this case, your jaw. Medications used can be anti-inflammatory or pain relieving.
- Dry needling — A certified practitioner performs dry needling by manually inserting sterile, thin needles into trigger points in the soft tissue of the affected area. This technique is intended to provide pain relief and help improve circulation.
- Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) — IASTM is a manual therapy technique that is instrument assisted. It is intended to help break up scar tissue or tension in the soft tissue of the affected jaw area. This can help relieve inflammation and provide pain relief.
Lattimore PT can help you find TMJ dysfunction pain relief
Physical therapy is intended to help you find pain relief and help improve your quality of life. Lattimore Physical Therapy’s team of licensed physical therapists strives to provide you with excellent individualized care, creating a treatment plan for your specific needs. We want to help you reduce your pain and regain your quality of life.
Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.