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TMJ – Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction

What Is Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction?

Temporomandibular joint disorder or dysfunction (TMD) is a common condition that limits the natural function of the jaw, such as opening the mouth and chewing, and can cause pain. TMD affects more women than men and is most often diagnosed in individuals aged 20 to 40 years. 

Causes:

  • Bad posture habits.
  • Chronic jaw clenching.
  • Problems with teeth alignment
  • Fracture/Surgery of the face or jaw
  • Lockjaw—where the jaw muscles spasm and the jaw cannot be fully opened.
  • Displacement of the disc or soft cushion located between the ball and socket of the joint, can cause popping, clicking, and pain of the jaw.
  • Arthritis in the TMJ.

How Does it Feel?

Jaw pain is the most common symptom.

Caution:  Jaw pain also can be a symptom of heart attack. Seek medical care immediately if jaw pain is accompanied by chest pain; shortness of breath; dizziness; left arm pain; numbness in the left arm; or nausea.

TMD symptoms include:

  • Jaw pain / fatigue
  • Difficulty opening your mouth to eat or talk
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Popping sounds in your jaw
  • Neck pain
  • Locking jaw

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physical therapist will evaluate your posture, neck mobility and TMJ function/motion.  Treatments may include:

Posture Education. Prolonged sitting at a desk, sitting in the car for a long commute, working at a checkout station—all can place the head in an awkward position.  The “forward head position forces the jaw to “rest” in an opened position, and the chewing muscles become overused. Your physical therapist will teach you to be aware of your posture so that you can improve the resting position of your jaw, head and neck.

Improving Jaw Movement. Physical therapists use skilled hands-on techniques (manual therapy) to gently increase movement and relieve pain in tissues and joints. You may also perform special “low-load” exercises that don’t exert a lot of pressure on your TMJ, but can strengthen the muscles of the jaw and restore a more natural, pain-free motion.

Special Pain Treatments.  Your physical therapist may provide treatments, such as electrical stimulation or ultrasound to reduce it.

Referral to a Dentist. If your TMD is caused by teeth alignment problems, your physical therapist may refer you to a dentist who specializes in TMD.

General Prevention Tips:

  • Place any work you are focusing on (written documents, computer screens) directly in front of you and not off to the side.
  • Place your computer monitor at eye level.
  • If you are on the phone at work for long periods of time, use a headset .
  • Avoid repetitive chewing, such as chewing gum.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Avoid opening the jaw too wide.
  • Avoid eating hard or chewy foods.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene and tooth health.
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach.