Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain may be localized to the joint (between the cheek and the ear) or widespread to the neck and head. It can range from mild to severe, and has the potential to interfere with eating, chewing, and fully opening your mouth.
When it comes to TMJ pain, physiotherapy plays a unique and important role in assessing and treating potential muscular contributors, and referring on to other relevant health practitioners where necessary.
Physio Assessment of TMJ Disorder
In the majority of cases, TMJ disorder is linked to surrounding muscle/myofascia rather than inflammation of the joint itself. To determine the origin of TMJ-related pain, our physiotherapists assess jaw and ear, as well as movement and posture of the head and neck. Subsequent treatment is based upon the findings of this examination.
Physio Treatment for TMJ Disorder
TMJ pain occurs when certain muscles are overloaded or lacking functional capacity. Physiotherapy offsets this by relaxing muscles that are overworked, and strengthening muscles that are underperforming.
To address muscle spasm at the neck and jaw, our therapists use massage and/or dry-needling. Additionally, joint mobilisations restore movement to stiff joints, and exercises for the shoulder, neck and jaw may be prescribed to improve muscle strength and function. Where indicated, a referral to a GP or dentist will be provided.
Important advice around behavior modification, such as ways to reduce clenching or grinding, will also be provided. In our experience, effective TMJ disorder management involves identifying the factors that trigger or are involved with these behavioral contributors, and devising strategies to negate them. By working with you to address the underlying causes of your pain, we help you implement realistic and sustainable lifestyle changes that provide long-term relief from TMJ disorder and limit recurrence.
The Evidence Behind Physiotherapy for TMJ Problems
When it comes to TMJ disorders, recent studies show treating the TMJ and neck in combination is more effective than treating the neck alone.
Managing TMJ pain with manual therapy, exercise, and advice/education from a physiotherapist has been proven to decrease pain, improve mouth opening, and resolve TMJ disorder altogether within 3 months.
1. What are the symptoms of TMJ disorders?
Common signs you are experiencing TMJ problems include:
– Waking with a headache and/or neck and jaw stiffness
– Clicking, clunking, or painful popping with mouth opening
– Painful and/or asymmetrical jaw movement
– Difficulty eating, singing, laughing, and yawning
– Grinding or clenching teeth during the day or night
2. Who is more likely to have TMJ disorders?
Approximately 10-15% of the population experience TMJ-related pain. It is highly correlated with headaches and/or neck pain, and is more common in women between the ages of 20 and 44.
A habit of clenching and grinding the teeth is a strong disposing factor to myofascial TMD symptoms, as is high amounts of stress and anxiety.