The painful symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) are some of the most common complaints that today’s physical therapists hear from new patients. TMJ affects more than 10 million people in the U.S., and it can lead to problems with jaw movement and chronic pain throughout the joints that make up the jaw. Physical therapy can help relieve the most common and painful symptoms of TMJ, including:
- Jaw fatigue and pain
- Trouble chewing or talking
- Neck pain
- A locking jaw
What Causes TMJ?
There are a number of factors that can lead to TMJ problems, including the following:
- Poor posture and computer overuse: Over time, TMJ can develop as the result of bad posture, including slumping over a computer while working and spending hours in a tensed position commuting to and from your job. The forced forward motion of the head causes undue stress on your muscles, and specifically on those that make up the TMJ. When these muscle are overtaxed, it can cause pain throughout the jaw that can go up in the head and down through the neck muscles.
- Grinding of the teeth and over clenching of the jaw: Some patients find that they develop TMJ symptoms after grinding their teeth or clenching their jaw at night. This is often the result of too much stress, and it can lead to some serious issues with your teeth and jaw. The constant pressure that grinding puts on your mouth can cause some painful mornings and a stiff jaw throughout the day.
- Fractures or misalignment of teeth: TMJ can result after trauma to the face or head and in some cases, where teeth simply don’t line up. Resulting jaw fractures can lead to pain and inflammation even after the initial injury has healed, while misaligned teeth can cause undue TMJ stress which can also lead to pain.
What to expect with TMJ Therapy:
At Total Motion Physical Therapy, we help patients identify lifestyle habits that may be contributing to their TMJ symptoms and then teach new healthy habits to help relieve your pain. During the initial consultation, we will ask you some general questions about your health, focusing on your current jaw, head and neck pain, and your current lifestyle. Next, we typically conduct a physical examination to assess your current range of motion, areas of weakness and especially painful areas. Conducting this type of full assessment is the key to effectively treating and managing TMJ symptoms.
Once your TMJ symptoms have been properly diagnosed, our physical therapist will create a treatment plan designed specifically for your issues. Typical treatments for TMJ include learning better posture, especially when using the computer, and manual therapy designed to improve your jaw movements. For patients with severe pain, the treatment plan may also include the use of an ultrasound machine or electrical stimulation to reduce inflammation. In cases where there are dental problems, you may be referred to a dentist to correct issues with misaligned teeth or other jaw problems. Some patients may also require the use of a customized mouth guard that is worn at night to resolve teeth grinding issues. The most extreme cases may require oral surgery to resolve the issues causing TMJ pain.
Let Total Motion Physical Therapy help get rid of the chronic jaw and neck pain that is associated with TMJ so that you can get back to a healthy, pain-free life. Contact us today to schedule an evaluation.